x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

India hails talks with China as ‘step towards stronger ties’

China’s foreign minister arrived in New Delhi on Sunday for bilateral talks, and is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee.

NEW DELHI // India called talks with China on Sunday a good step towards stronger ties in the first high-level meeting of between the countries since Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, met his Indian counterpart in New Delhi during a two-day visit to build relations with the right-wing Modi government, which came to power last month on a pledge to revive the economy.

The foreign ministry spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, said talks between Mr Wang and Sushma Swaraj on economic and other issues were productive and substantive.

“All issues of significance were raised and discussed in a frank and cordial manner,” Mr Akbaruddin said. “In our view this is a productive beginning between the new government of India and the Chinese government.”

The talks focused on trade ties but also touched on a border dispute that has soured relations for decades.

On Monday, Mr Wang is expected to meet Mr Modi, who has extended olive branches to traditional rivals China and Pakistan since coming to office despite his hardline nationalist reputation.

Mr Modi has invited the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to visit this year, an offer that Mr Wang told India media had been accepted.

Mr Wang told The Hindu newspaper he had travelled to the capital as a special envoy of Mr Xi to “cement our existing friendship and explore further cooperation”.

“China is ready to work with our Indian friends for an even brighter future of our strategic and cooperative partnership,” he said.

Analysts say Mr Modi’s landslide-election win has given him a mandate for more assertive foreign policy than the previous government. He held talks with his Pakistani counterpart last month.

China is India’s biggest trading partner with two-way commerce totalling close to US$70 billion (Dh256.9bn). But India’s trade deficit with China has soared to more than $40bn from just $1 billion in 2001-02, Indian figures show.

Economists say Mr Modi must bridge the deficit by seeking greater access to the Chinese market, with the two sides targeting annual bilateral trade of $100bn by 2015.

Relations, however, are still dogged by mutual suspicion – a legacy of a brief, bloody border war in 1962 over the Indian north-east state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Mr Modi warned China to shed its “expansionist mindset” at an election rally this year. China hit back, saying it “never waged a war of aggression to occupy any inch of land of other countries”.

Relations between the two countries also took a hit in April last year when India accused Chinese troops of intruding deep into its territory in another remote region of the Himalayas, sparking a three-week stand-off that was only resolved when troops from both sides pulled back.

Mr Wang acknowledged the border tensions, but said the two countries have “much more strategic consensus than differences and cooperation is our top priority”.

“The boundary question is indeed a difficult one, but with strong will and resolve, we will eventually find a solution.”

The border between China and India has never been formally demarcated, although they have signed accords to maintain peace.

Foreign policy expert Ranjit Gupta said the visit was a “good augury”.

“China has gone all out to woo the new Indian government, which is a great gesture,” Mr Gupta, a member of the Indian Security Advisory Council of the US-India Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said.

* Agence France-Presse