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Tuesday, 21-November-2006
The Australian- - CHINA and India are poised to sign a crucial deal on civilian nuclear co-operation during President Hu Jintao's visit to New Delhi, with negotiators from the two sides meeting to finalise the agreement before the leaders of the two Asian giants held talks yesterday.
The proposed deal is likely to be along the lines of the nuclear agreement concluded between India and the US this year and would signal Beijing's bid to adapt to radical changes resulting fromNew Delhi's ties with Washington.

In strategic terms, it will be aimed at offering New Delhi an alternative to being too closely allied to Washington following the US deal. Under that agreement, India, a non-signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, will be allowed access to long-denied civilian nuclear technology in return for placing its atomic reactors under global safeguards. The US deal is seen as a historic Indian shift towards closer ties with the West.

Analysts said yesterday that Beijing would prefer a traditionally non-aligned India instead of New Delhi being used by the US as a counterweight to China's growing influence.

Mr Hu would seek to persuade India to take a stand on a multi-polar world to counter the dominance of Washington, Indian media reported.

"Hu Jintao is expected to make some serious gestures on the nuclear issue to ensure that India does not get inextricably close to the US," reports said.

Chinese and Indian officials had held "consultations on a possible understanding between the two neighbours on India's role as a nuclear power", the reports added.

"China wants to quickly adjust to India's role as a nuclear power following the recent decision of the US Senate (to pass the Indian deal) as well as address Delhi's concerns over its support fornuclear power plants in Pakistan."

As reported in The Australian yesterday, India is anxious to get Beijing's support for its nuclear program as China is an important member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

According to diplomatic sources in New Delhi yesterday, if the Chinese and Indian negotiators succeed in reaching agreement on the nuclear issue, it is likely to promote the exchange of nuclear technology between the two most populous nations, which are poised to dominate the world's economy.

Chinese nuclear scientists have reportedly been in India meeting local counterparts to discuss exchanges.

If there were agreement before Mr Hu leaves India tomorrow for a three-day visit to Pakistan, it would suggest that China wants to compete directly with the US to win influence in India. That would require delicate handling, given Beijing's longstanding close ties to Islamabad.

But in the rapidly evolving panorama of relations in South Asia, everything is possible, and it seems likely that Beijing, to pacify Pakistan, will go out of its way to persuade New Delhi to settle its dispute with Islamabad over Kashmir.

On the first day of his visit to India, the first by a Chinese leader in a decade, Mr Hu was warmly welcomed by the nation's leaders, despite demonstrations by supporters of Tibetan independence.

But there is no sign of the Indian parliament being summoned into joint session to hear an address from him, an honour accorded to few foreign visitors.

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