China’s foreign minister began a two-day visit to India yesterday for the first high-level talks between the world’s two most populous nations since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge.
Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) arrived in New Delhi as a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to “establish contact with the new government of India,” the Indian foreign ministry said.
Despite his hardline nationalist reputation, Modi has made overtures to traditional rivals China and Pakistan since his Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power last month.
The new Indian leader has invited Xi to visit later this year.
Wang is coming “to engage with our leadership and we will take it from there,” foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told a news briefing last week. “We would be in a listening mode to engage and see.”
Wang arrived in the capital early yesterday morning and held talks with his new counterpart, Indian Secretary of Foreign Affairs Sushma Swaraj, later in the day, the foreign ministry said.
He is expected to call on Modi and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee today before leaving early tomorrow. Foreign policy expert Ranjit Gupta told reporters that the visit was a “good augury.”
“China has gone all out to woo the new Indian government, which is a great gesture,” said Gupta, a member of the Indian Security Advisory Council of the US-India Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
“India and China are emerging global powers and with better relations, India will hopefully resume its growth path and reclaim its position in Asia,” Gupta added.
China is India’s biggest trading partner, with two-way commerce totaling close to US$70 billion. Yet India’s trade deficit with China has soared to more than US$40 billion from just US$1 billion in 2001 to 2002, Indian figures show.
Experts say Modi must bridge the deficit by seeking greater access to the Chinese market, with the two sides targeting annual bilateral trade of US$100 billion by next year.
“The deficit is a huge embarrassment that keeps growing,” Gupta said.
Yet, despite the strong trade ties, relations are still dogged by mutual suspicion — a legacy of a brief, bloody border war in 1962 over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, nestled in the eastern stretch of the Himalayas, which China claims as its own.
Modi warned China to shed its “expansionist mindset” at an election rally earlier this year. China hit back, saying it “never waged a war of aggression to occupy any inch of land of other countries.”
The nuclear-armed nations, both with 1 billion-plus populations, are expected to focus on economic ties and border issues during Wang’s visit, following a territorial flare-up in April last year.
India accused Chinese troops of intruding nearly 20km into Indian-claimed territory, triggering a three-week standoff that was resolved when forces from both sides pulled back.
The border between China and India has never been formally demarcated, although they have signed accords to maintain peace.
Meanwhile Tibet’s exiled government — based in India — has pinned its hopes on the new Indian government to speak up for Tibetans during Wang’s visit.
“This is in the interest of India as well because Tibet, as a buffer zone between India and China, has served the interests of all neighboring countries,” Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay told reporters.