11/20/2006, 00.00
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Hu Jintao arrives in India today, progress only in economic relations

After decades of rivalry, the two Asian giants are looking for a new era of collaboration. Experts expect greater trade but little progress on other divisive issues. In three days Hu flies to Pakistan, Idia, sold rival.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hu Jintao travels to India today, the first state visit by a Chinese President in a decade. During his three-day stay, he is scheduled to meet Indian President A.P.J. Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as visit the cities of Agra and Mumbai.

Although cooperation between the two countries—whose economies are rapidly expanding—has grown considerably in recent months, their relations remain fraught with difficulties.

Border disputes continue with each side claiming territory held by the other. Similarly, both are competing for energy supplies.

Beijing backs Pakistan, India's main rival, and Mr Hu is scheduled to travel to Islamabad after visiting New Delhi to sign new agreements to supply reactors to Pakistan for six nuclear power plants as announced a few days ago.

India, for its part, has shut out Chinese firms from competing for contracts in modernising India's harbours and telecommunications on unspecified "security grounds". Hutchinson Port Holdings, a subsidiary of Hutchinson Whampoa of Hong Kong, was not allowed for example to submit for work in the port of Mumbai. But the Indian government seems split over the issue.

"The element of competition between the two is quite palpable," said Kripa Sridharan, a South Asian politics expert at the National University of Singapore. But "it is unlikely that their rivalry will turn ugly because that will be detrimental to their broader objective of becoming important global players".

Mr Hu and Indian leaders "will express to the world that the development of China and India not only provides opportunities to the two countries but also makes positive contributions to world peace, stability and development", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

Bilateral trade, nearly non-existent 20 years ago, has grown rapidly and is projected to rise 10 per cent this year to US$ 20 billion. Last July the countries reopened a Himalayan border crossing closed 44 years earlier during a border war.

However, whilst Beijing is considering talks on a free-trade area, it is not clear whether New Delhi will reciprocate.

Whatever the case may be, experts expect economic cooperation to dominate discussions with little done to solve other outstanding issues. Some analysts also believe that any deal between the two countries will come on the back of Tibetan rights. More recently, India seems in fact to have abandoned its critical stance on the Tibet question.

Warming relations between India and the United States and potential US-Indian nuclear energy co-operation are another issue of concern to Beijing. New Delhi is waiting for US lawmakers to approve a US-India civilian nuclear co-operation deal that would allow America to provide atomic fuel and technology to India. This might go beyond boosting India's energy supplies.

For this reason, Beijing now has strategic reasons to woo New Delhi if it does not want to opt for the Pakistani card, sparking a regional arms race.  (PB)

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