Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is scheduled to meet a 500-member youth delegation from India on Thursday, said Chinese officials, with both countries looking to send a positive signal on the state of bilateral ties amid reports of recent strains.
The announcement of Mr. Wen meeting the delegation was last-minute. Officials in the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday Mr. Wen would address the delegation at an event in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
The group is here on a 10-day visit, led by Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Ajay Maken, under an initiative by both governments to mark 2011 as the year of India-China youth exchanges.
The delegation is the biggest ever from India and comprises political leaders, students, including those who specialise in Chinese studies, and artists.
Mr. Wen had extended an invitation to 500 Indian youth during his visit to New Delhi in December, instead of the earlier practice of 100-member exchanges.
The delegation arrived in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon, and will later travel to Shanghai and Guangzhou. An interaction with Chinese youth will take place on Thursday at the Great Hall of the People, with the Chinese Premier or another top Chinese leader expected to attend.
Both countries are looking to upcoming bilateral interactions to draw a line over recent reports of strains in relations because of differences over Indian oil exploration projects in the disputed South China Sea.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the State media have, in recent days, issued strong statements expressing their opposition to the involvement of foreign countries in any projects in the South China Sea, over which China claims sovereignty. This followed reports that India and Vietnam would discuss the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh Limited's on-going exploration projects, during External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's visit to Hanoi last week.
Both Indian and Chinese officials have, however, sought to play down the reported row over China's objections, stressing that the differences over the South China Sea projects, contrary to media reports, were not new developments, and that engagement on other fronts would continue as before.
Besides the visit of the 500-member youth delegation, India and China will also hold their first ever Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) later this week, from September 24 to 26.
The dialogue, Indian officials said, reflected a first-of-its-kind effort by both countries to better coordinate macroeconomic policies to tackle common challenges.
The Indian side will be led by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, and the Chinese side by Zhang Ping, Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is the country's top economic planning body.
The dialogue will provide a platform for both countries to better understand policy making by their governments, in order to pave the way for more regular engagement on specific issues, ranging from currency policies to water-management.
The talks, officials stressed, will not cover trade issues, which will be taken up by the on-going Joint Economic Group dialogue mechanism between both Commerce Ministers. India has expressed increasing concern over its rising trade deficit with China, which widened to $14 billion after seven months this year and is likely to exceed last year's record $ 20 billion figure.
Keywords: India China relations