China to join India in fighting terrorism

NEW DELHI, JAN. 13. Condemning international terrorism in strongest possible terms, the visiting Chinese leader, Mr. Li Peng, today said Beijing is willing to cooperate with India in countering this menace to regional security and stability.

Like India, China views international terrorism as a big threat to its national security. But there has been some hesitation until now in Beijing to be seen as joining New Delhi in its campaign against international terrorism.

In an exclusive conversation with The Hindu this morning, Mr. Li, who ranks number two in Chinese hierarchy, reaffirmed Chinese opposition to ``terrorism of all descriptions - in any region, any part of the world''.

Arguing that terrorism cannot resolve any problems, Mr. Li said ``China is willing to cooperate with all countries which are against terrorism. Of course, India is one of them''. Diplomatic observers here believe this probably the first ever indication from the Chinese leadership of its readiness to cooperate with India in combating terrorism.

Initially this cooperation may be limited to the multilateral arena, particularly in the United Nations where India is pushing a comprehensive global convention against terrorism.

According to Mr. Li, China supports ``every effort to combat international terrorism through the formulation of international conventions and hope that the international community will take further steps to improve the anti-terrorism international legal framework''.

Observers here say it may be a while before India and China find the comfort level to extend this cooperation from the international arena to a direct bilateral engagement on counter- terrorism.

In the middle of a nine-day sojourn in India, Mr. Li was affable and had an easy smile. He answered questions from The Hindu with a large number of senior officials from his entourage watching. He waved off an official who tried to end the conversation and took a few additional questions.

Declaring that his visit aimed at improving relations with India will be successful, Mr. Li said, ``We have fulfilled half of the programme, but I think we have already achieved more than half of the expected results''.

Mr. Li's expansive political engagement with the Indian leadership will be capped on Monday, when he meets the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee.

On the prospects for an early resolution of the boundary dispute, Mr. Li said ``so long as there is a will, there is a way to gradually resolve the problem''. Mr. Li added that he was pleased to note there was a desire on both sides to address the issue.

Expressing satisfaction at the progress already made in dealing with the boundary dispute, Mr. Li believed that ``as long as the two sides act in the spirit of friendly consultation... we will be able to find, through candid and peaceful negotiations, a final solution acceptable to both sides''.

Looking to the future, Mr. Li said, ``after we have put the border issue behind us, we will be able to further strengthen the friendship and cooperation'' between the two nations. Mr. Li noted that his consultations here showed there was a bipartisan consensus in India on resolving the boundary dispute. Asked on Chinese ties with Pakistan, Mr. Li laughed and said, ``I anticipated this question''. Reiterating the Chinese desire to develop friendly relations with both India and Pakistan, Mr. Li said ties with one nation were not directed against its neighbour.

Referring to the ``misunderstandings among Indian friends'' on Sino-Pakistan strategic links, Mr. Li said, ``military trade and cooperation between China and Pakistan are conducted in full compliance with international practices and treaties''.

Continuing Indian concerns over Chinese nuclear and missile transfers to Pakistan are being addressed in a formal security dialogue between New Delhi and Beijing. The second round of the dialogue is scheduled to take place next month in New Delhi.

Questioned on China's view of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, Mr. Li said the long history of the conflict suggests that ``military means cannot bring a settlement and only peaceful talks and consultations will lead to a final solution''.

As friends of both India and Pakistan, China hopes ``India and Pakistan will resume as soon as possible sincere and meaningful talks'', Mr. Li said. Taking note of the ``positive initiatives recently taken by India and Pakistan on Kashmir, Mr. Li added, ``we would welcome and support any move that helps promote and relax relations between the two countries''.

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