The presidential visit is the first in a decade

President Pratibha Patil is commencing her six-day state visit to China on Wednesday with the atmospherics thought to be just right for a convivial meeting between the two sides.

Speaking on background ahead of the visit, officials from the Ministry of External Affairs said India-China relationship could not be predicated only on the irritants routinely cropping up between the two Asian powers. The aim during the presidential stay would be to build on the Copenhagen positives and take a broad brush, multi-faceted view of the relationship rather than tie it down to one or more specific problems.

Officials admitted that there were thorny issues. But the presidential visit did not want to provide the occasion or forum for lingering on them. Besides, many of the outstanding issues were gone into when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visited China, and were currently in various stages of discussion.

The view emerging from the Indian side is that while there is no denying the problems, it is equally, if not more, important to go beyond them and understand the nuances of a relationship that is no longer static. There is now exchange of opinion at various levels — between the two governments, between officials, between think tanks as well as between cultural organisations. Over the past year and a half, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has met with both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. The upshot of the growing engagement was the much talked about cooperation achieved during the Copenhagen climate change summit in December 2009.

The Copenhagen spirit was most recently celebrated by Jairam Ramesh, who hit out at the Indian Home Ministry for restricting Chinese investment in India, thereby undermining the potential of what was achieved during the climate summit.

Symbolism attaches to Ms. Patil's visit, the first by an Indian head of state in a decade — President K.R. Narayanan was in China in 2000 — also because it coincides with the landmark 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China. Ms. Patil's crowded calendar in Beijing includes appointments with the top four in the Chinese leadership hierarchy — “extensive” talks with President Hu followed by meetings with Chairman of the National People's Congress Wu Bangguo, Premier Wen and Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Jia Qinglin. A state banquet hosted by the Chinese President will bring the Beijng leg of the tour to a close.

From Beijing the Indian presidential entourage will move to Luoyang in Central China's Henan province. The Indian connection to the city derives from the fact that India's first Buddhist monks to China lived and worked in the famous White Horse Monastery under imperial patronage in the first century A.D. While there, Ms. Patil will commemorate the civilisational ties between the two countries by inaugurating an Indian-style Buddhist shrine built with Indian assistance.

The last stop on the itinerary is Shanghai, where the President will visit the ongoing World Expo, thought to be eye-popping — as much for the scale of the event as for the variety on offer.

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