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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

PREVIEW - India, China leaders to meet amid war of words

October 22, 2009

By Krittivas Mukherjee
October 21, 2009

NEW DELHI, Oct 21 (Reuters) - India's Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to meet his
Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on Saturday,
hoping to douse an escalating verbal duel between
the Asian giants centered around their decades-old border dispute.

The meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit
in Thailand would be the first high-level contact
between the two nations after recent months of
diplomatic barbs led to unusual levels of tension
and fears that the rivalry could spin out of control.

Relations have warmed in recent years, mostly on
the back of mutual trade expected to pass $60
billion next year, a 30-fold increase since 2000.

But tensions have risen in the last few months
amid reports in Indian media of Chinese border
incursions, and an objection by Beijing to
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's planned
visit next month to the Indian state of Arunachal
Pradesh that China claims as its own territory.

Beijing also criticised a visit by India's Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh to the mountainous state
this month, drawing strong protests from New Delhi [ID:nDEL503010].

"The visit of the Dalai Lama is seen as not only
reinforcing India's claim on Arunachal Pradesh,
but also boosting the Tibetan struggle by
undermining Chinese territorial integrity," said
Bhaskar Roy, a New Delhi-based strategic analyst on China.

Some view China-India rivalry in the context of
who will lead Asia. A "calibrated escalation" of
the border dispute may also reflect Beijing's
wider concern about a younger, restive generation
of Tibetans the Dalai Lama does not control.

And Beijing would like to ensure that this new
generation of Tibetan exiles based in northern
India is not used as a bargaining chip by New Delhi in future, analysts say.

"All of this is reflected in its reaction to its
failure to assimilate Tibet," said strategic analyst Prem Shankar Jha.

"The Chinese hold India responsible because it
has kept the Tibetan culture and political
identity alive by sheltering the Dalai Lama. This
was the bone of contention that led to the 1962
war. It is almost certainly the real bone of contention today."


The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Mutual mistrust lingers from a short war the two
sides fought in 1962 and the presence of the
Dalai Lama in India irks Beijing, as does India's
growing relations with the United States.

"This meeting would be about building confidence
that has taken a knock in recent months --
weeding out misapprehensions, clearing of the air," Roy said.

"But it is not going to be easy because the
sparring went too far this time. It will take time. Tension will not go away."

The two sides have also struggled to settle their
border dispute. Each side claims vast swathes of
the other's territory along their 3,500-km (2,173-mile) Himalayan boundary.

China lays claim to 90,000 sq km of land on the
eastern sector of the border in the Indian state
of Arunachal Pradesh. India says China occupies
38,000 square km (15,000 square miles) of territory in Aksai Chin plateau.

While a new war is very unlikely, the unsettled
border between the world's two most populous
countries has the potential to fuel tensions
destabilising further a region already roiled.

But the Chinese are seeking to play down things.

"I wish to point out that at present
Chinese-Indian relations have maintained a
healthy direction of development," Chinese
foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said on Tuesday.

"High-level mutual visits, frequent contacts and
trade and economic cooperation continue to
develop...On major international and regional
issues, both sides maintain closer coordination
and cooperation." (Additional reporting by Emma
Graham-Harrison in Beijing; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Ron Popeski)
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