Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) travels to India this week as part of efforts to build trust between the rival neighbors amid lingering disputes over territory, trade and telecoms.
Wen will hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and oversee celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties, an opportunity to highlight a historical relationship that has evolved into a sharpening competition over resources and global markets.
The two sides are expected to sign agreements, including on energy and infrastructure development, but no major breakthroughs in ties are anticipated.
“The visit aims to improve mutual trust and development cooperation with India. People shouldn’t have too high expectations for the visit,” said Hu Shisheng, an expert on China’s relations with South Asia at the Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
The Chinese foreign ministry said yesterday that Wen would also visit longtime ally Pakistan on a five-day sweep through South Asia starting tomorrow.
Wen’s visit to India follows one to China by Indian President Pratibha Patil in May — the first by an Indian head of state in a decade — and comes on the heels of a 14th round of discussions on their disputed border.
It marks the latest attempt to redefine relations long beset by mutual suspicion and a natural rivalry befitting the world’s first and second most populous nations.
“Leaders of our two countries have agreed that there is enough space in the world for China and India to develop together and there are enough areas for China and India to cooperate with each other,” Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue (胡正躍) told a briefing.
The most glaring disagreement remains the remote, mountainous China-India border, over which the two fought a brief but brutal war in 1962. The two lack even a commonly designated line of control and a resolution is not expected in the near future.
Indian businesses, meanwhile, complain about a flood of cheap Chinese exports that account for about two-thirds of bilateral trade that is expected to hit US$60 billion this year. Underscoring the lopsided economic relationship, India’s Reliance Power in October contracted with a Shanghai company to purchase equipment and services valued at US$8.9 billion over 10 years. Indian exports to China, in contrast, remain largely limited to raw materials such as iron ore.
Partly in response to the imbalance, New Delhi this year blacklisted telecoms equipment from Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, citing national security concerns. The eight-month ban, which was relaxed in August, came less than a week after media reports that Chinese hackers had broken into the computer networks of India’s security, defense and diplomatic establishments.
India is also deeply suspicious of China’s close ties with Pakistan, as well as the Chinese navy’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and Beijing’s close ties to the Maoist parties now governing Nepal.
China for its part resents the presence in India of the Tibetan government-in-exile headed by the Dalai Lama, who fled across the border amid an abortive rising against Chinese rule in 1959.
“This is not a relationship that is adversarial at this point, although it could become one in future,” said Jasjit Singh, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in New Delhi.