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India's prime minister leaves for China to boost ties between Asian giants

NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed for China Saturday for a three-day visit aimed at boosting the sometimes strained relations between the two Asian giants.

NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed for China Saturday for a three-day visit aimed at boosting the sometimes strained relations between the two Asian giants.

Singh will meet top Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and the Communist party's No. 2 ranking official, Wu Bangguo.

Singh's China visit, the first by an Indian prime minister in nearly five years, comes as the two countries - whose combined population of nearly 2.4 billion accounts for a third of humanity - have forged their warmest ties in decades, mostly fuelled by soaring trade between two of the world's fastest-growing economies.

In a sign of their closer ties, India and China held their first-ever joint war games at the end of last year.

But lingering suspicions and an unresolved border dispute, dating back to a brief but bloody 1962 war, have marred further progress.

Singh said he would discuss "issues relating to the boundary." This is expected to include the border dispute and India's concerns that Chinese troops have been making incursions over the de facto border - an often vague line high in the Himalayas.

It appeared unlikely, however, that the dispute over the 129,500-square kilometre area along the mountainous frontier would be resolved during this trip. Eleven rounds of talks have yielded little real progress so far.

In the past, ties between Indian and China have also been dogged by Beijing's strategic alliance with India's archrival, Pakistan, to which China has supplied arms and missile technology.

Beijing has also expressed concern about New Delhi's increasingly close relationship with Washington, including a recently signed civilian nuclear deal.

Despite this, relations have warmed in recent years, mainly due to booming two-way trade that soared to $37 billion in 2007, almost touching the 2010 target of $40 billion set during Hu's 2006 visit to New Delhi.

Singh said both countries and the world stood to gain from the growth of India and China.

"Our bilateral relations are now poised to enter a vibrant and dynamic phase," he said.

 
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