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Sunday, May 13, 2001

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India to dispel Beijing's doubts

By C. Raja Mohan

NEW DELHI, MAY 12. India will have an opportunity next week to exchange views with China at the high political level on the controversial American plans to build missile defences. Mr. Li Changchun, a ranking member of the politburo of the Chinese Communist Party arrived in Mumbai today at the invitation of the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh.

While China is among the sharpest critics of the U.S. plans for missile defence, India has strongly welcomed certain elements of the proposals by the U.S. President, Mr. George Bush, for a new global strategic framework. Mr. Singh will hold consultations with Mr. Li when he arrives here next week. As it happens, Mr. Li will be here after the recent Indian talks on missile defence with the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Igor Ivanov, and the U.S. special envoy, Mr. Richard Armitage.

Informed sources here say the Indian decision to welcome parts of Bush proposals is based on New Delhi's basic interests; and that India has no desire to join any alleged American plan to contain China.

India has succinctly articulated a consistent position on missile defences with both Russia and the U.S. in the last few days. And the Government will be more than pleased to discuss its approach with the visiting Chinese leader. New Delhi supports deep cuts in nuclear weapons, welcomes a negotiated transition from the world of balance of terror and opposes a unilateral abrogation of such arms control treaties as the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The U.S. has begun consultations with Russia on the new strategic framework and the ABM treaty, and talks are also expected to take place between the U.S. and China soon. The Sino- Indian talks are part of this evolving multi-directional consultations on missile defences.

Although not planned in any way to coincide with the Russian and American visits, Mr. Li's trip to India comes amid the new international debate on missile defences. In another coincidence, Mr. Li will be travelling in India while the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr. Zhu Rongji, is on an extended visit to Pakistan and the subcontinent. Reports from Pakistan suggest that Gen. Pervez Musharraf has backed China in its criticism of the American plans to build missile defences. But speculation that missile defences might polarise great power relations with India and Pakistan might be premature.

The great debate on missile defences has just started. And having good relations with all the major powers, India can engage the U.S., Russia and China in an honest and transparent way. New Delhi is keen on dispelling any misperceptions of Beijing about India's line on missile defences.

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