China, India sign deal to reduce risk of border conflicts

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shaking hands with China's Premier Li Keqiang in Beijingon Wednesday.

CHINA and India have signed an agreement to reduce the risk of conflict on their disputed border, but failed to clinch a long-awaited deal to ease visa curbs as tension lingers between the two Asian giants.

But both sides were eager to play up bilateral ties when their premiers met on Wednesday, noting it was an important relationship between two ancient civilisations.

"When India and China shake hands, the world notices," visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters after witnessing the signing with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

The Border Defence Cooperation Agreement adds to previous pacts and lays down ground rules for situations where their respective patrol guards come into contact in disputed border areas.

For example, the two sides agree to not tail patrols of the other side in disputed areas. They also agree to look into establishing a hotline between their military headquarters. "It's a step forward in trying to get rid of incidents on the border that create a lot of distrust between both sides," said Dr Anit Mukherjee of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Tensions had risen in April when Chinese troops set up tents and stayed 21 days in disputed territory in Ladakh's Depsang Valley, eastern Kashmir.

China and India fought a brief war along their border in 1962, a clash which still scars relations between two countries that account for nearly 40 per cent of the world's 7.2 billion people.

While two-way trade has jumped 13 times from US$4.95 billion in 2002 to US$66.5 billion (S$82 billion) last year, both still view each other warily over issues like India's ties with Japan and the US or China's ties with Pakistan.

"Both sides are wary of each other and have not really developed deep trust," said researcher Sun Shihai of the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies in Beijing.

Indian media reported that India put off the signing of the visa deal after China issued stapled visas earlier this month to two athletes from Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims as its territory. Stapled visas - which differ from those usually issued to Indian citizens - are meant to assert China's sovereignty claims.

Still, nine pacts in areas such as transport, culture and transnational river cooperation were inked yesterday.

Both sides held "candid and constructive" talks on regional and global affairs, said Dr Singh, adding that their relations with other countries "must not become a source of concern for each other".

Instead, the two will work on a proposed "Southern Silk Road" that links them together with Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Officials from the four countries will meet in China's Kunming in December to discuss the project, called the Bangladesh- China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a Chinese official said.

Observers say Sino-Indian ties are good now compared with three to five years ago. China's new leadership has shown a greater willingness to improve ties, noted Dr Mukherjee.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also met Dr Singh yesterday, called on both sides to join hands to strengthen the voice of developing countries on the world stage.

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