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Asia: India, China Sign Historic Border Agreement

Indian and Chinese leaders today signed landmark agreements aimed at ending their long-standing border disputes. The series of accords could also boost economic cooperation between the giant emerging economies. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the agreements will "reshape the world order."

Prague, 11 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The prime ministers of India and China have agreed to create what they call a "strategic partnership for peace and prosperity."

The agreement between the two most populous countries in the world was sealed with a set of accords signed in New Delhi today that aims to end their lingering border disputes and to boost economic cooperation.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the accords he signed today as a detailed road map that will promote diplomatic relations and economic ties. He said the accords will reshape the world order.

"Out of these discussions we will evolve a new relationship between our two countries -- widening, deepening, strengthening our multifaceted ties in many diverse areas," Singh said.

The accords include an 11-point plan that was finalized yesterday and sets out guidelines for future negotiations over some 3,500 kilometers of common border between China and India.

The road map calls for demarcation to be finalized with both countries taking into consideration historical factors, geographical features, and the people living in disputed areas. It also said that negotiations should consider security concerns and whether land is currently under Indian or Chinese control.

The border disputes between China and India have been simmering since 1962 when a brief but bitter military conflict erupted in two separate parts of the Himalayan mountains.

New Delhi maintains that China is illegally occupying 38,000 square kilometers of Indian territory in the disputed region of Kashmir -- along the western edge of Tibet. New Delhi said the land was illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, Beijing claims that 90,000 square kilometers of the Indian-administered state of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to China. That land is along the southeastern edge of Tibet.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiaboa signed the accords for Beijing in New Delhi today.

"We are agreeing on the guiding political principles about the settlement of the China-India border issues," Wen said. "I am sure through these talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that we will be able to bring our partnership closer."

Today's accords signal a significant shift in relations between the neighbors. Other agreements focus on diverse issues like cooperation in civil aviation, finance, education, science and technology, tourism, and cultural exchanges.
The border disputes between China and India have been simmering since 1962.

Despite the lingering border disputes, both India and China have been strengthening their economic ties in recent years. Officials from both countries have said they hope that improved trade relations will bring about a quicker resolution of political differences.

The Chinese prime minister has expressed Beijing's desire to develop a free-trade area between the two countries. With combined populations of more than 2 billion people, such a development would create the world’s largest free-trade zone.

Wen and Singh have agreed to appoint a panel of experts to study the feasibility and benefits from establishing such a trade area.

It was not immediately clear if Wen has raised the issue of Tibet and the role of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in his talks with Singh.

India allowed the Dalai Lama to set up a government in exile in the northern Himalayan town of Dharmsala after he fled Tibet in 1959 following an aborted uprising against Chinese rule in the territory.