Chinese premier pledges 'mutual trust' on India trip

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged on Monday to build trust with India and declared that ties between the Asian giants were key to world peace as he visited New Delhi only weeks after a border spat.

Speaking alongside his counterpart Manmohan Singh, Mr Li said China wanted to increase cooperation with India, saying his choice of destination for his first foreign visit showed the importance that Beijing attached to ties with Delhi.

"The purpose of my current visit to India is three-fold - to increase mutual trust, to intensify cooperation and to face the future," Mr Li said.

"On the basis of deeper mutual trust, our two countries can further deepen our mutual understanding and construct a new type of relations between major countries, promote healthy and sound development of China and India.

"That will be a true blessing for Asia and the world," he added.

Mr Li's visit comes after a flare-up last month in a long-running border dispute between the two countries in a remote Himalayan region.

New Delhi accused Chinese troops of intruding nearly 20 kilometres into Indian-claimed territory, triggering a three-week standoff that was resolved when troops from both sides pulled back.

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 that was the site of a brief Indo-Chinese war in 1962.

Although Mr Li did not mention the border dispute, he stressed that cooperation between the world's two most populous nations had global ramifications.

"World peace ... cannot be a reality without strategic trust between India and China," he said.

After arriving in New Delhi on Sunday afternoon, Mr Li held a first round of talks with Dr Singh in the evening and the two held more detailed discussions on Monday.

Mr Li is also scheduled to meet Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi and senior figures from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party before heading to the financial hub Mumbai on Tuesday.

The border dispute almost led Mr Khurshid to cancel a visit to Beijing before the pullback agreement, despite his insistence that the row should not serve to "destroy" recent diplomatic progress.

Dr Sujit Dutta, a China expert at Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University, said Beijing could become more assertive in such disputes under its new leadership.

"As Beijing's new leadership is making a concerted effort to challenge India's territorial assertions, India will have to plan new attempts to bridge the perceptional distances between these two huge neighbours," he told AFP.

Other observers said there was a general acceptance that the border dispute should not be allowed to block progress in other areas.

China is India's second-largest trading partner, with two-way commerce totalling US$66.5 billion (S$83.54 billion) last year.

Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Yaoping told reporters last week that he was optimistic that the target of reaching US$100 billion by 2015 would be met.

But the figure in 2012 was in fact a fall from the US$74 billion for 2011 and India is also facing an increasing trade deficit with China that totalled US$29 billion in 2012.

Several major roads in the Indian capital have been closed to prevent Tibetan protestors from disrupting the visit while exile groups complained of heavy-handed policing in their neighbourhoods.

"The police has denied us permission to protest in New Delhi and police deployment in Tibetan resident areas has been intensified. They are not allowing young Tibetans to walk in groups," said Mr Tsering Choedup, a regional coordinator for the International Tibet Network.

After wrapping up his visit to India, Mr Li is due to travel to neighbouring Pakistan before heading to Switzerland and Germany.

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