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China, India appeal for deeper ties, not tensions

NEW DELHI (AP) — The leaders of India and China called Thursday for a stronger partnership, a huge increase in trade and even the creation of an emergency hotline as they stressed a spirit of cooperation — not competition — between Asia’s two rising powers.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s three-day trip to India was aimed at building trust and strengthening economic links. It also appeared part of a Chinese effort to blunt U.S. influence in India.

“I hope that my visit will help increase our cooperation in a wide range of fields and raise our friendship and cooperation to an even higher level,” he told reporters after a ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace.

At their meeting Thursday, Wen and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to work to increase trade between the two countries from $60 billion a year to $100 billion by 2015, according to a joint communique.

China is India’s largest trading partner, but the flow of goods is weighted heavily toward Chinese imports here. The two sides agreed to work to reduce that trade gap, though India did not appear to have succeeded in persuading China to lift restrictions on the import of Indian software and pharmaceuticals.

Singh and Wen also agreed to push forward with efforts to peacefully resolve their nations’ lingering border disputes — which erupted into a brief war in 1962 — and welcomed the opening of a telephone hotline between the two premiers.

The two leaders also witnessed the signing of agreements on banking ties, sharing green technology and media exchanges.

“A strong partnership between India and China will contribute to long-term peace, stability, prosperity and development in Asia and the world,” Singh said.

While making public expressions of friendship — Singh accepted Wen’s invitation to visit China next year — tensions remain between the two neighbors.

India was annoyed by China’s recent refusal to stamp visas in passports of residents of Indian-held Kashmir, a move seen as questioning New Delhi’s sovereignty over the restive region also claimed by Pakistan.

China, seeking influence around Asia, has irked India by expanding ties with Indian neighbors, including Sri Lanka, Nepal and archrival Pakistan. Wen is to head to Pakistan on Friday.

China, for its part, resents the presence in India of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama. Tibetan activists protested Wen’s visit.

The two countries have also been competing over resources and global markets.

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper dismissed concerns of tensions between the world’s two most populous countries.

“Compared to promoting prosperity, the border disputes are not the most urgent item on either country’s agenda,” the newspaper said. “Both countries endeavor to build a strong economy, whereas neither thinks about hegemony in Asia. Both are seeking further modernization and first-class civil livelihood.”

Despite their disputes, India and China have worked together internationally on climate change issues and for a greater say in global finance.

Upon his arrival in India on Wednesday, Wen stressed the growing financial and cultural ties between the countries by visiting an Indian school to discuss the Chinese language and calligraphy, and by addressing a gathering of business leaders. Wen brought 300 Chinese business officials with him on his trip, and Indian and Chinese companies are signing $16 billion worth of deals during his visit.

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