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Menon to Visit China to Start Formal Contract
India's formal contacts with China's new leadership would begin when National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon arrives here to hold wide ranging talks with Chinese officials over two days from December 3.

Menon's visit mainly focuses on bilateral issues during which he will also meet his Chinese counterpart on border talks, Dai Bingguo, who is set to retire next March.

More importantly, the top Indian official would also be meeting Vice Premier, Li Keqiang, the new number two leader who is set to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao.

Menon's itinerary is still under finalisation, but he could be the first foreign dignitary in town to interact with the new Chinese leaders.

His meeting with Li, 57 is expected to set off the pattern of close contacts between the top leadership after a change in the CPC leadership here, according to Chinese officials.

It appears unlikely that Menon may meet Xi as the new leader is to begin interactions with foreign dignitaries only after taking over as President in March when Hu steps down.

Xi succeeded Hu Jintao as General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party and Chief of Military but the outgoing President still remains the Head of State, officials say.

Chinese officials say that the enthusiasm which China has displayed in stepping up cooperation with India at the just concluded high-profile Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED), after the election of a new leadership, points to continuity and Beijing's interest in stepping up ties with its big neighbour.

The same message was conveyed to Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh during his meeting with Wen on the sidelines of recent ASEAN summit in Cambodia.

The outgoing leader Hu and Wen met the Indian leadership many times in various multilateral fora during the last decade and the new leaders were expected to do the same, a Chinese official said.

Both Xi and Li are part of the previous nine member Standing Committee, the highest policy body and were very much part of China's high-profile diplomacy with India.

Former External Affairs Minister, S M Krishna met Li during his visit here in June this year to take part in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

Li told Krishna that "it is an important cornerstone for the development of China-India relations to deepen pragmatic cooperation to achieve win-win reciprocity".

Asked about the comments by a senior leader of the Communist Party of China that both countries should be ready to make "compromises and meet each other halfway" on the border issue, official sources in New Delhi said "we don't know what he meant by that".

Li Junru, member of Standing Committee of National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which is a top advisory body to the Government, had yesterday told Indian journalists that the border issue was a headache left over "by the British colonists".

"It happens because of historical reasons and we did have some unhappy and unfortunate incidents in this regard in the past," he had said.

It will be also an emotional visit for Menon as his good friend and China's top diplomat on border issues for years, Dai, 71, would be retiring keeping up with the Chinese practice of change of leadership at each level after a decade.

Dai worked with several Indian officials like former NSA Brajesh Mishra and Menon himself overcoming mistrust and succeeded in establishing a rapport to enable both sides to come up with key initiatives to prevent border dispute from escalating, while improving relations on all fronts including in the critical area of defence.

Dai's delegation to take part in talks with Menon will be watched with interest as it would give an idea as to who would succeed the veteran.

Many names including present Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi are doing the rounds.

Separately, Menon is scheduled to release a Chinese translation of the works of late Prof P C Bagchi, India's most eminent scholar on Chinese culture on Feb 4 at the Indian Embassy here. The NSA would also deliver a talk on India-China relations after the book release.
Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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