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China's Li heads for South Asia, Europe
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 17, 2013

Chinese ships in disputed-islands waters: Japan
Tokyo (AFP) May 17, 2013 - Three Chinese government ships entered the waters of disputed islands on Friday, Japan's coastguard said, more than a year after the then-Tokyo governor set off the row by announcing plans to buy them.

The Chinese maritime surveillance vessels were spotted off the Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea at around 2:30 pm (0530 GMT), the coastguard said.

It is the latest episode in a fraught few months that has seen repeated stand-offs between official ships from both sides as they have jostled over ownership of strategically-important and resource-rich islands.

The territorial row blistered in September when Tokyo nationalised three islands in the chain, in what it said was a mere administrative change of ownership and one intended to pre-empt a more volatile purchase by nationalist Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara.

Tokyo's move prompted angry anti-Japan demonstrations across China, which has intensified claims to the islands it says should have been "returned" in the post-World War II settlement Tokyo made.

Honduras open to diplomatic ties with China: minister
Tegucigalpa (AFP) May 16, 2013 - Honduras is "open" to diplomatic relations with China, despite decades of ties to Beijing's bitter rival Taiwan, Foreign Minister Mireya Aguero said on Thursday.

"The possibility remains open" of forging ties with Beijing, Honduras' top diplomat said.

"In the case of the People's Republic of China, it is a member of the UN Security Council, and a country of indisputable world importance, from an economic, political and investment perspective," she said.

Aguero added that opening ties to Beijing would allow Honduras to better achieve its "objectives in international relations," saying that her country must remain open to ties "with any member of the United Nations."

Despite a lack of diplomatic relations, Honduras has maintained trade ties to Beijing, which in recent years has become a major economic player throughout Latin America.

President Porfirio Lobo is said to be interested in deepening those relations.

China "is an enormous market that has not been accessible to Honduras," the president told reporters at a press conference.

Honduras is one of about 30 nations which maintains relations with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

Chinese nationalists fled to Taiwan after their defeat in the mainland's 1949 civil war and has evolved into a prosperous democracy. It lost its seat in the United Nations in 1971 when the General Assembly admitted Beijing.

China -- which considers Taiwan a Chinese province awaiting reunification -- has adamantly opposed any international role or recognition that implies that the island is a separate country.

Costa Rica so far is the only country in Central America to break ties to Taiwan and forge diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang embarks this weekend on his first foreign trip since taking office, heading to India, Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany as Beijing seeks to address security and economic disputes.

Li's journey follows one by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Russia and three African nations in March after the two men assumed their new positions, concluding China's once-a-decade leadership transition.

Since then a long-running border dispute with New Delhi has flared up with an alleged incursion by Chinese troops into Indian-claimed territory in the Himalayas, while trade disputes with the EU have intensified.

The official Xinhua news agency said the trips illustrate Beijing's "overall diplomatic strategy, with which the new Chinese leadership aims to show the outside world its commitment to peaceful development".

Li starts his nine-day journey in India on Sunday.

"There are some historical issues between China and India, including the boundary question," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao told reporters, but stressed their similarities as "ancient civilisations and emerging markets".

"I think we have the wisdom and resourcefulness to properly manage our differences," he said at a briefing this week.

"And we have the ability to prevent these differences from affecting the overall growth of China-India relations."

The Asian giants are the world's two biggest countries by population, accounting for more than one-third of the world's seven billion people.

China is India's second-largest trading partner, with two-way commerce totalling $66.5 billion last year, according to Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Yaoping.

It was targeted to reach $100 billion by 2015, he told reporters, adding the goal was "expected to be realised on schedule".

The two countries are both members of the BRICS group of emerging economies, which also includes Brazil, Russia and South Africa.

But geopolitical relations between the nuclear powers have been characterised by a mutual wariness with its roots in a Himalayan border war in 1962.

During the frontier row New Delhi accused Chinese soldiers of setting up camp nearly 20 kilometres (12 miles) inside a region claimed by India.

Beijing rejected the claim as "speculation" and denied any trespass, but an Indian army source said earlier this month it had withdrawn its forces.

The frontier has never been formally delineated and India said recently it was working with Beijing on a new border defence cooperation agreement.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is India's South Asian rival but an old ally of China, described by Song as an "all-weather strategic partner".

Li's visit will be the first by a global leader to the country in the wake of this month's general election, in which the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif ousted the ruling Pakistan People's Party.

The Chinese premier intends to meet Sharif during the visit, Song said.

In Europe, Li will stop first in Switzerland, with which China is negotiating a free trade agreement. Beijing last month inked an FTA with Iceland, its first with a European country.

He will finish his tour in Germany, China's largest trade partner in Europe with bilateral commerce totalling $161.1 billion last year -- 29.5 percent of China's total trade with the EU.

The visit, which will include talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, comes amid an intensifying trade dispute over telecom equipment and solar panels.


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