The leader's trip, amid the Sars crisis, signals India's desire to normalise ties Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will visit China next month as part of ongoing efforts to improve relations between the world's two most populous nations, Defence Minister George Fernandes announced yesterday. Mr Vajpayee will be the first Indian premier in more than a decade to visit Beijing. During the last visit by former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, China and India signed an agreement to maintain peace along their 4,500km-long border. The announcement comes less than two weeks after India and Pakistan - regarded as China's traditional ally in South Asia - agreed to restore top-level diplomatic ties and resume air links, ending a two-year-long breakdown in relations. 'For the last three years, not a single bullet has been fired across the high Himalayan frontiers between the two countries [India and China],' Mr Fernandes said, adding that there was a strong desire by both sides to normalise bilateral relations. India and China fought a brief border war in 1962 and have been negotiating in recent years to demarcate the disputed border. The border talks have not produced any agreement that Mr Vajpayee could sign in Beijing. 'The two sides are still a long way away from imbuing the relationship with a great deal of content,' said Nimmi Kurian, a China expert at New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research. 'But Mr Vajpayee's decision to go to Beijing is a clear message that India is willing to engage with China despite the existence of important differences,' Dr Kurian said. Dates have yet to be finalised for next month's visit, but the Indian prime minister is scheduled to go to China at a time when other foreign leaders have cancelled their tours due to the Sars outbreak. In a symbolic gesture of confidence, Mr Fernandes visited Beijing last month at the height of the scare. Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, in a telephone conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, yesterday, expressed appreciation for 'the positive results China has made in fighting Sars'. The two spoke about the cautious peace initiative India has launched with Pakistan. According to Xinhua, Mr Li said as a 'friend and neighbour of both India and Pakistan'', China hoped to see an improvement in relations between the two South Asian countries. On Sunday, on the fifth anniversary of India's nuclear tests, Mr Vajpayee criticised western countries for 'adopting double standards' and failing to impose sanctions on India's neighbours, who were 'guilty of missile and nuclear proliferation'. Apparently referring to Pakistan and China, he said: 'Countries guilty of missile and nuclear proliferation have not attracted sanctions. Some even continue to receive liberal economic assistance.' Meanwhile, commenting on his discussions with Chinese leaders including Premier Wen Jiabao, Mr Fernandes said they sought friendship with India. He said China was focused on becoming the world's leading economic power by 2021 and did not want security-related issues to impede its progress, the Hindu reported.