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Top Chinese ministers to visit New Delhi

The ministers of commerce and defence from China are headed to India in the next three weeks amid worries about a slump in bilateral trade and indifferent military ties. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.

world Updated: Aug 16, 2012 23:20 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The ministers of commerce and defence from China are headed to India in the next three weeks amid worries about a slump in bilateral trade and indifferent military ties.

On August 27, Chinese commerce minister Chen Deming is expected to arrive in New Delhi on a two-day visit on August 26 to hold the ninth round of talks with his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma under the framework of Joint Economic Group (JEG).

Seven days later, on September 2, outgoing defence minister general Liang Guanglie will lead a 20-member delegation of the People's Liberation Army, the world's largest army, for a three-to-four day trip to India.

The fact that the commerce and defence ministers from China are slated to visit New Delhi in the next three weeks could be interpreted as a signal that both countries are willing to look beyond festering disputes.

It will be the first time that a Chinese defence minister visits India since 2004; President Pranab Mukherjee was the last Indian defence minister to visit China in 2006 during UPA's first regime.

Expected to be part of the Chinese PLA delegation are officers from the Chengdu and Lanzhou military regions – both regions have borders with India – and the strategic and secretive Second Artillery Corps (SAC) which is responsible for China's nuclear and ballistic missiles.

The SAC is considered to be the fourth wing of the PLA after the army, navy and air force – which will also have officers in the delegation -- and is directly answerable to the Central Military Commission, the top body looking after the armed forces.

A representative from China's South Sea Fleet, which is geared up for security in the South China sea region, is also expected to be part of the delegation.

It was learnt that general Liang's visit wasn't discussed during the annual military dialogue between the two countries in January.

But last month a director general-level officer of the PLA stopped by in New Delhi while on his way back to China from Sri Lanka; during a meeting with Indian bureaucrats he expressed that the general was keen to visit India.

He had last visited India in 2005 when he was the PLA's chief of general staff.

Meanwhile, commerce ministers Chen and Sharma are expected to address structural problems that are pushing the burgeoning bilateral trade into a negative territory.

The JEG meeting is taking place against the backdrop of officials pointing to the seventh straight month of decline in bilateral trade volumes.

According to half-yearly data for this year released by China's General Administration of Customs, India's exports reached $12.91 billion, registering a decline of 8% compared to the same period last year.

This was mainly due to 50% fall in Indian iron ore exports to China.

Trade deficit for India stands at $13.6 billion compared to $13.4 billion around the same time last year.

Also China's exports to India were on decline and touched $26.57 billion in July this year, a decline of 3.3%.