China downplays friction with India ahead of visit

China downplays friction with India ahead of visit

BEIJING - The Associated Press
China downplays friction with India ahead of visit

China’s Premier Keqiang (R) shakes hands with India’s FM Khurshid. Before Keqiang’s visit to India, China downplays border friction with the country. REUTERS photo

China downplayed border tensions with India today, days before the new Chinese premier visits the neighboring country on his first foreign visit since taking office in March.

Disagreements over the Himalayan frontier can be handled under existing mechanisms and should not affect overall relations, Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao told reporters at a briefing. “China and India have historical border issues, but these are outweighed by our mutual interests and cooperation,” Song said.

No touch on stand-off

Song made no direct mention of a recent three-week standoff between border troops that had threatened to overshadow Li Keqiang’s visit that begins May19. Song said Li’s choice of India for his first overseas visit as premier was a sign of the importance Beijing attaches to improving relations with New Delhi. He said Li would meet with top leaders and attend a business summit among other activities.

The sides negotiated a peaceful end to the standoff, although India’s foreign minister last week said the two needed to work harder to avoid border flare-ups and resolve those that do happen more quickly.

New Delhi claimed Chinese troops crossed the de facto border April 15 and pitched camp in the Depsang valley in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir. India responded with diplomatic protests, and then moved its soldiers just 300 meters from the Chinese position. A series of meetings were held, and troops from both sides withdrew last week to their original positions. The nations often accuse each other of crossing the frontier high in the western Himalayas or of violating agreements with new construction or boosted deployments. India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers of territory in the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas, while China claims around 90,000 square kilometers in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Fifteen rounds of talks have failed to resolve the dispute.