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China, India
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (C) arrives at Air Force Station of Palam airport in New Delhi on December 15, 2010. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in India at the head of a huge business delegation to try and shore up a relationship undermined by persistent trade and territorial disputes. – AFP Photo/RAVEENDRAN

NEW DELHI: China and India's future prosperity lies in partnership not rivalry, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday, promising to redress a yawning trade imbalance between the fast-growing Asian giants.

Wen, making his first visit to India in five years, came at the head of a 400-strong delegation of Chinese business leaders aiming to boost trade ties and ease tensions in a relationship long marked by mutual suspicion.

“China and India are partners for cooperation, not rivals in competition,”Wen told a business forum at the start of the two-day visit, during which the two countries hope to sign trade agreements worth close to 16 billion dollars.

In recent years, competition for global markets and the raw materials needed to keep their economies on the move has exacerbated historic tensions over border disputes, protectionism and the activities in India of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Despite the numerous diplomatic spats, bilateral trade has boomed and is set to reach 60 billion dollars this fiscal year, up from 42 billion dollars the year before.

Acknowledging India's concerns over a trade surplus in China's favour of between 18 and 25 billion dollars, Wen said China stood ready to “facilitate access” of Indian IT and pharmaceutical products to the Chinese market.

“There is enough space in the world for the development of both China and India,” he said, adding that the search for the resources needed to fuel their economies should never be allowed to descend into “vicious competition”.

Wen's visit comes at a point when Beijing's relations with Delhi are -- in the words of China's ambassador to India, Zhang Yan -- “very fragile, easy to damage and difficult to repair”.

The talks between Wen and Singh on Thursday are certain to touch on the two countries' disputed Himalayan border -- the cause of a brief but bloody war in 1962 and the focus of 14 rounds of largely fruitless negotiations.

China has become increasingly assertive on the territorial issue and complained bitterly last year over visits to the northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh -- which China claims in full -- by Prime Minister Singh and the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, regarded as a dangerous separatist by Beijing, has lived in exile in India since fleeing a failed 1959 uprising against the Chinese.

Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of Tibetan exiles marched in New Delhi against Chinese rule in their homeland, burning an effigy of Wen and vowing to keep up their protests until the premier leaves India for Pakistan on Friday.

“We will shed our blood and give our lives for the freedom of our homeland,” they chanted as armed police monitored the rally closely.

Wen's decision to visit India's arch-rival Pakistan has not been welcomed in New Delhi, which views the close ties between Beijing and Islamabad with suspicion.

Other irritants include Beijing's lukewarm response to India's push for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and New Delhi's concerns that a Chinese dam on the Brahmaputra river in Tibet could disrupt water supplies downstream in India.

Harsh V. Pant, a lecturer in the Department of Defence Studies at King's College London, said tensions were inevitable in a relationship that will help define the balance of global power in the 21st century.

“A troubled history, coupled with the structural uncertainties engendered by their simultaneous rise, is propelling the two Asian giants into a trajectory that they might find rather difficult to navigate in the coming years,” Pant said.