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China, India Agree to Ease Border Tensions : Diplomacy: Leaders pledge to reduce troop levels in contested areas. Settlement of permanent boundaries is to follow.


BEIJING — Leaders of the world's two most populous countries, China and India, signed an agreement here Tuesday to reduce tensions along their mountainous border, the site of a 1962 war and frequent military skirmishes.

After daylong discussions, Indian Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao and Chinese Premier Li Peng agreed to reduce troop levels and honor the existing line of control in the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India until a permanent border settlement can be reached.

A joint communique described the pact as a "landmark agreement" that will help reduce three decades of hostility between the two countries, which together represent more than one-third of the world's population.

In addition to an unspecified reduction of military forces on both sides of the border, including disputed areas in India's Jammu and Kashmir state, a senior member of the Indian delegation said the agreement signed on Tuesday involves "adjusting weapons systems to reduce the level of confrontation" and establishing exchanges of military officers.

"This is a substantive agreement dealing with the most complex issue that has affected Sino-Indian relations," the Indian official said.

The last reported exchange of fire between Indian and Chinese forces took place in 1987. Since then, officials of the two countries have met six times to resolve the conflict.

But until the visit of Rao, who needed a major foreign policy victory to shore up his troubled minority government back home, the only previous breakthroughs had been the establishment of communications between opposing forces on the border and regularly scheduled meetings between senior officers at two border checkpoints in the remote region.

If the agreement holds, it could mark the end of a rivalry that in a post-Cold War setting no longer makes much sense.

China made a surprise military assault on India in 1962, which came in the context of worsening relations with the Soviet Union. According to Jay Taylor, author of a recent book on Sino-Indian relations, "The Dragon and the Wild Goose," the 21-day blitz into India was intended to strike fear more in Moscow than in New Delhi.

From the Indian perspective, one of the biggest potential gains from the new agreement involves the Chinese acceptance of the line of control as a point at which to begin negotiations on a final border plan. Indian officials see this as a softening or abandoning of Chinese claims on the northern Indian state of Sikkim, which Chinese officials had previously classified as disputed territory.

Conspicuously absent from discussions between the top leaders were the allegations from the United States that China last fall supplied components of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Pakistan, India's archrival and opponent in three wars.

"The subject did not come up," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wu Jianmin said coolly when asked about the missiles at a press conference.

However, Chinese hard-line Premier Li used the occasion to once again attack the United States, continuing a three-day campaign of anti-American polemic that began after inspectors failed to find chemical-weapons materials on a Chinese merchant ship that American intelligence agencies claimed was taking them to Iran.

"There are still serious cases of hegemonism and power politics that are mainly exhibited in naked interference in other countries' internal affairs," Li said, referring to the incident over the Chinese merchant ship Yinhe in the Persian Gulf.

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