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Merkel coming to India, China wary

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's high-profile visit to India from Monday is likely to be closely and warily watched by China, writes Nilova Roy Chaudhury.
Hindustan Times | By Nilova Roy Chaudhury, Berlin
UPDATED ON OCT 25, 2007 02:19 AM IST

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's high-profile visit to India from Monday is likely to be closely and warily watched by China, which has recently seen a dip in bilateral ties with the European Union's largest exporting country. India is the concerted focus, not just for its economic potential, but as a 'partner', for building abiding strategic relations, top foreign policy strategists said.

Over the past decade, while Germany and China enjoyed 'excellent' bilateral relations, according to Eberhard Sandschneider, director at the German Council of Foreign Relations, until Merkel allowed her 'value-based politics' to take over.

Opposing the advice of her foreign office, Sandschneider said, Merkel publicly feted the Dalai Lama, who has made India his home since 1959, meeting him at her office in the Chancellery. After the meeting, Beijing officially protested and called off 'several' high-level official delegations.

There was also a serious incident of hacking key German government websites that surfaced during Merkel's recent visit to Beijing, which was 'raised' by the Germans.

"We have spoken to our friends in China and told them we were justified in granting an audience to the Dalai Lama because he is a man of peace," said an adviser to Merkel, who did not want to be named.

At the same time, there is a considerable change in awareness about India and Germany intends to use Merkel's visit to begin a 'rediscovery of India', said a top Indian diplomat in Berlin.

The 'Incredible India' campaign was emblazoned on Berlin's buses and a sign in front of the Berlin zoo featured a picture of a tiger, saying 'Not all Indians are peaceful or vegetarian!'

"India is not just a key democratic partner in Asia for the United States, but also for Europe," Sandschneider said, "so it is very important for Germany to develop close security and strategic ties with India, about which we just do not know enough."

"The visit to India is among the most important for Merkel," said Christoph Heusgen, foreign policy and security adviser to the German Chancellor, "for three key reasons. She has a very good personal equation with and admiration for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India is a very important partner and a major regional actor and she wants to focus on developing economic ties and advancing climate change concerns," said Heusgen.

"She will be spending more time there (Monday through Thursday) than she has in any other country."

There will be a major focus on science and technology with around 10 agreements due to be signed. Among those is an agreement between the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa, for a research project on ecosystems.

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