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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indian Foreign Policy


Jan 16, 2008
India charts its own foreign policy: PM Singh
The Prime Minister moots nuclear cooperation and reassures Beijing over Delhi's close ties with Washington
By Sim Chi Yin, China Correspondent
IN BEIJING - INDIAN Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday pledged to chart an independent foreign policy that seeks closer links with China, holding out the possibility of civilian nuclear energy cooperation.
Acknowledging Beijing's discomfort over New Delhi's recent cosying up to Washington, Dr Singh told an audience of top Chinese social scientists that India would strive for 'strategic autonomy in the world'.

'The independence of our foreign policy enables us to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation with all major countries of the world,' he said in a televised half-hour speech at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think-tank.

Dr Singh, the first Indian premier to visit China in five years, has been quick to dismiss talk that New Delhi is being drawn into a regional 'concert of democracies' to contain China.

Indeed, he stressed time and again during his three-day trip that Asia and the world have enough room to accommodate the rise of both China and India.

The two emerging giants, already the world's fastest-growing economies, are building on their booming trade ties to shelve their decades-old mistrust and broaden their interaction.

Beyond trade - which is now targeted to reach US$60 billion (S$86 billion) by 2010 - the two sides will deepen cooperation in military ties as well as science and technology, as spelt out in a series of agreements reached by Dr Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday.

Recognising that exploding growth in both India and China will spur a thirst for energy, Dr Singh highlighted possible collaboration with Beijing on civilian nuclear energy projects in yesterday's speech.

He said: 'We can do much more to jointly develop clean and energy-efficient technologies...India seeks international cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy, including with China.'

Dr Singh's invitation to China came as India's efforts to use nuclear energy to meet its soaring electricity needs took a fresh blow yesterday, with Australia reversing its previous government's plan to sell uranium to India.

Canberra's reason for doing so is that New Delhi has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

New Delhi's deal for the United States to provide India with nuclear technology and fuel already stands mired in opposition at home.

On his China trip, Dr Singh is believed to have also sought Beijing's backing, which is crucial to putting the India-US deal into operation.

China is a key member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which must endorse the safeguards New Delhi is negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency to make the India-US deal work.

Although Beijing is displeased with the New Delhi-Washington deal, Dr Singh likely won its tacit support, say observers.

During Dr Singh's visit, which wrapped up yesterday, the two neighbours - their ties frozen for decades after the 1962 border war - have been keen to paint themselves as 'partners...not rivals', as Premier Wen put it on Monday.

Reporting no breakthrough on their long-running border dispute, Dr Singh vowed to work with China in what he termed 'the Asian way' - 'avoiding confrontation and building trust, confidence and consensus'.

He also said there was a need for the people of the two countries to get to know each other better to 'remove misconceptions and prejudices'.

The Indian leader met Chinese President Hu Jintao and Parliament chief Wu Bangguo yesterday before flying home last night.

Underscoring the two countries' warming ties, Mr Hu told Dr Singh that their governments should solve their disputes through dialogue and deepen the foundation of their bilateral ties with regular exchange of visits by top leaders.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TRACY QUEK

simcy@sph.com.sg

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