Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) arrived in New Delhi yesterday afternoon in a bid to build trust between two Asian powers with increasingly close economic ties despite their ongoing competition for regional influence.
The two sides were expected to discuss their lingering border disputes, a growing trade imbalance and friction over India’s role in Kashmir, the restive region that is also claimed by Pakistan.
Wen was scheduled to visit a school to discuss Chinese culture, a week after the government decided to add Mandarin to the basket of languages taught at Indian schools. Today he was to hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The two countries have worked to play down their tensions.
“We are, from the Indian side, looking at the positive side of the outcome. The trade is growing between the two countries, the people-to-people exchanges are increasing, high-level visits are also increasing,” India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told the CNN-IBN news channel.
The talks between Wen and Singh are expected to touch on the tensions and rivalries that have marked the historic relationship between the two nations.
A dispute over their border, which sparked a brief war in 1962, remains unresolved despite 14 rounds of discussions over the issue.
China has also upset India by refusing to stamp visas in passports held by residents from Kashmir, in a move seen as questioning New Delhi’s sovereignty over the restive region.
The three-day trip is Wen’s first visit to India in five years and comes at a point when Beijing’s relations with New Delhi are — in the words of Chinese Ambassador to India Zhang Yan (張炎) — “very fragile, easy to damage and difficult to repair.”
Wen is accompanied by about 300 Chinese business leaders.
Despite the numerous diplomatic thorns in the relationship, economic ties are booming, with bilateral trade set to reach US$60 billion this fiscal year, up from US$42 billion the year before.
“Let trade do the talking,” the Hindustan Times said in an editorial ahead of Wen’s arrival. “Other issues that add to the trust deficit will hopefully get addressed on the way.”
Harsh Pant, a lecturer in the Department of Defence Studies at King’s College London, said tensions were inevitable in a relationship that will help define the balance of global power in the 21st century.
“A troubled history, coupled with the structural uncertainties engendered by their simultaneous rise, is propelling the two Asian giants into a trajectory that they might find rather difficult to navigate in the coming years,” Pant said.
“India-China ties have entered choppy waters and they are likely to remain there for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Wen will follow his visit with a trip to Pakistan, whose close ties with Beijing have always been viewed with suspicion from New Delhi.