China and India agreed during this week's historic visit by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to negotiate a settlement to a bitter and protracted dispute over their common border, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The announcement, coming as Gandhi ended his official duties in Beijing, was the first sign of movement in years on the issue, which has strained Sino-Indian relations for nearly three decades.At a news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Li Zhaoxing said the world's two most populous nations had agreed to establish "a joint working group, which is specially devoted to the boundary question."

Indian and Chinese officials would not give details on the planned group, which would negotiate over areas held by China that India claims are part of its territory along the 2,250-mile frontier.