Chinese premier makes India first stop in maiden trip

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in India on Sunday on the first stop of his maiden foreign trip, weeks after a border dispute was rekindled by alleged Chinese troop incursions in a disputed region.

Premier Li, in a statement quoted by his country's Xinhua news agency, said his choice of India as first destination "indicates the great importance Beijing attaches to its relations" with New Delhi.

And Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said exchanges were aimed at "enhancing trust" between the two countries, which fought a brief but a bloody war in 1962 over a border row.

"The object of such visits and meetings is to enhance trust and understanding between our two governments and our peoples as well as to exhibit sensitivity to each other's concerns," he added.

The Asian giants have held 15 rounds of high-level talks but the dispute in the Himalayan region of Kashmir remains unresolved.

The row again flared last month after India alleged that Chinese troops intruded nearly 20km into Indian-claimed territory, triggering a three-week standoff.

The Line of Actual Control between the nuclear-armed neighbours has never been formally demarcated, although they have signed accords to maintain peace in the region.

Spokesman Akbaruddin said Mr Li, heading a large delegation, would hold a "restricted meeting" later Sunday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh followed by dinner.

Mr Li and Dr Singh will hold formal "delegation-level" talks on Monday which will be followed by some agreements, he added.

The Chinese leader will also meet other Indian leaders including from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

The spokesman said India thinks "very highly" of Mr Li's decision to make the country his first overseas stop since taking charge as premier in March.

After New Delhi, Li will travel on Tuesday to India's financial hub Mumbai and then a day later to Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany.

He is scheduled to address Indian business leaders in Mumbai.

The world's two most populous countries have in recent years seen ties improve and trade boom, and both sides sought to stay low-key over the latest row.

Beijing has said its troops "never trespassed the line".

The leaders' talks on Monday will also cover bilateral trade, another Indian foreign ministry official said, with India pressing for more access to the Chinese market.

In 2012, bilateral trade was US$66.5 billion (S$83.5 billion) - down from US$74 billion in 2011 and a setback to the neighbours achieving their US$100-billion goal by 2015.

India also faces an increasing trade deficit with China that totalled US$29 billion in 2012.

In addition, New Delhi will seek assurances that a Chinese plan to build three more hydropower dams across the cross-border Brahmaputra river - known in China as the Yarlung Tsangpo - will not affect India's downstream water flow.