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China, India appeal for deeper ties, not tensions

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, second right, waves during a ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or the Presidential Palace, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010. During Wen's three-day visit to India, the two sides were expected to discuss their ling

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, second right, waves during a ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or the Presidential Palace, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010. During Wen’s three-day visit to India, the two sides were expected to discuss their lingering border disputes, a growing trade imbalance and friction over India’s role in Kashmir, the restive region that is also claimed by India’s arch rival, Pakistan.

Kevin Frayer, Associated Press

NEW DELHI — The leaders of India and China called Thursday for a stronger partnership between their countries as they publicly downplayed the lingering economic and political tensions between Asia's rising powers.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's three-day trip to India was aimed at building trust and strengthening economic links. It also appeared part of a Chinese effort to blunt U.S. influence in India.

"I hope that my visit will help increase our cooperation in a wide range of fields and raise our friendship and cooperation to an even higher level," he told reporters Thursday morning after a ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace.

Wen later met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the two leaders witnessed the signing of agreements on banking ties, sharing green technology and media exchanges.

"A strong partnership between India and China will contribute to long-term peace, stability, prosperity and development in Asia and the world," Singh said.

However, the relationship between the countries has been marred by friction.

The two leaders had been slated to discuss how to tackle a trade imbalance heavily weighted in China's favor and ongoing border disputes — which sparked a brief war in 1962.

They were also expected to address China's refusal to stamp visas in passports of residents of Indian-held Kashmir, a move seen as questioning New Delhi's sovereignty over the restive region also claimed by Pakistan.

China's state-run Global Times newspaper dismissed concerns of tensions between the world's two most populous countries.

"Compared to promoting prosperity, the border disputes are not the most urgent item on either country's agenda," the newspaper said. "Both countries endeavor to build a strong economy, whereas neither thinks about hegemony in Asia. Both are seeking further modernization and first-class civil livelihood."

Wen stressed the growing financial and cultural ties between the nations by visiting an Indian school Wednesday to discuss the Chinese language and calligraphy and addressing a gathering of business leaders. Wen brought 300 Chinese business officials with him on his trip, and Indian and Chinese companies are signing $16 billion worth of deals during his visit.

India has also worked to play down tensions, pointing out that China is India's largest trading partner and emphasizing that high-level visits between the countries are increasing.

The two countries have also been competing over resources and global markets.

China, seeking influence around Asia, has irked India by expanding ties with Indian neighbors, including Sri Lanka, Nepal and archrival Pakistan. Wen is to head to Pakistan on Friday.

China, for its part, resents the presence in India of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama. Tibetan activists protested Wen's visit Wednesday.

Despite their disputes, India and China have worked together internationally on climate change issues and for a greater say in global finance.