India and China focused on boosting economic ties in the first formal talks between the two countries holding more than a third of the world’s people since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in New Delhi last month.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in India’s capital yesterday for more than three hours, Syed Akbaruddin, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters in New Delhi. The top diplomats talked about increasing Chinese investment into Indian industrial parks, he said, without specifying if border issues or Tibet came up.
“Both the leaders felt there was a tremendous untapped potential for growth of economic ties,” Akbaruddin said, adding that “everything” was discussed, including countering terrorism. “China is a neighbor with whom we share a long border. Our neighborhood is a major focus of our government.”
Modi in his election campaign promised to take a harder line on protecting India’s borders with China than his predecessor as the two nations aim to end troop clashes that have hobbled their relationship for the last five decades. Modi warned China to drop its “territorial mindset” in February and said his country’s weakness had encouraged China’s army to enter Indian territory last year.
“With China, Modi will be trying to balance trying to win their investment for things like infrastructure projects, and at the same time trying to reinforce the borders,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor in Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Modi’s first trip abroad will be to Bhutan later this month, followed by Japan in July and then the U.S. in September, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Modi is also likely to attend a summit with leaders of China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa next month and the United Nations General Assembly in September.
“There has been an enormous amount of interest among a variety of leaders across the globe to meet our new political leaders,” Akbaruddin told reporters on June 6. “The prime minister’s inbox relating to foreign policy is very crowded.”
Modi met with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other regional leaders who attended his inauguration on May 26 after his Bharatiya Janata Party became the first party to win an Indian parliamentary majority in 30 years. Sharif hailed the meeting as a “historic opportunity” and said he’s ready for talks on all topics to overcome years of mistrust.
India and China have sought to prevent their disagreements from affecting economic ties. China is India’s largest trading partner and their combined trade was $49.5 billion in the April-December period, according to Indian government data.
India accuses China of occupying 38,000 square kilometers (about 15,000 square miles) of territory in Jammu and Kashmir, while the government in Beijing lays claim to 90,000 square kilometers of land in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
India and China have both laid claim to territory held by the other and clashed during a brief border conflict in 1962. The potential for hostilities was highlighted last year when India alleged Chinese troops had crossed into Indian-held territory in Ladakh. The incident, the most serious dispute between the neighbors in a quarter of a century, triggered a three-week escalation in tensions ending with an agreement negotiated by army commanders.
Akbaruddin declined to answer whether the two leaders discussed Tibet’s government-in-exile, which last week announced a renewed push for greater autonomy before Wang’s arrival. China opposes the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, who campaigns for Tibetan autonomy and human rights from exile.
The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and led the government in exile until two years ago. Chinese officials have stepped up security in areas populated by Tibetans as monks and their supporters have set themselves on fire to protest government policies in the region.