Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit India for the first time as head of state to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the world’s most populous nations look for progress on border disputes and trade imbalances.
Xi will travel to India, Sri Lanka and Tajikistan from Sept. 12-19, China’s Foreign Ministry said yesterday, after Modi won the nation’s biggest electoral mandate in 30 years in May. Xi will skirt Pakistan, where he was due to sign $34 billion of investment deals, because of political unrest.
“China is starting to see its region as a wider Indo-Pacific, in which the sea lanes, energy supplies and trade routes between east and west matter deeply to China’s security,” Rory Medcalf, director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, said in an e-mail.
China is seeking to boost ties with India as relations with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines are clouded by territorial disputes. India and China, home to more than a third of the world’s population, have seen sporadic border clashes over five decades, including a three-week standoff last year.
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.
Modi pledged during the election campaign to take a harder line on protecting India’s borders with China. Tension over territory has complicated ties since a 1962 war. Modi warned China to drop its “territorial mindset” in February and said India’s weakness had encouraged China’s army to enter its territory last year.
After Modi’s win, both sides curbed their rhetoric. Modi told Xi at a July meeting in Brazil that an amicable resolution would set an example for the world on how to peacefully resolve conflicts. Xi called for “negotiated solutions” to the border dispute with India at an early date, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, left, shakes hands with Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, right, during a signing ceremony after their meeting at the State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept. 1, 2014.
Progress on the border dispute would allow the government to devote more resources to strengthening economic ties. Modi has called for more Chinese investment in infrastructure as a way to rectify a $34 billion trade imbalance with India’s largest trade partner.
Xi’s visit comes as Japan, which has its own territorial dispute with China, also courts Modi. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged a sweeping upgrade of economic and security ties with India after hosting Modi in Tokyo last week. Japan would double investment and expand defense cooperation with India, he said.
“Ultimately a pivotal relationship in Asia will be the Beijing-New Delhi relationship,” said Ralf Emmers, associate dean at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “I think it’s actually a pretty smart move, after having a pretty solid first session with the Japanese.”
Modi and Abe also affirmed their commitment to maritime security, freedom of navigation and the peaceful settlement of disputes under international law, China is involved in disputes with half a dozen Asian nations over territory in the East and South China Seas.
Modi will spend his birthday on Sept. 17 showing Xi his home region of Gujarat, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel said Sept. 6.
In a speech to business leaders in Tokyo, Modi said, “the world is divided in two camps. One camp believes in expansionist policies while the other believes in development.”
Modi’s comments weren’t directed at China, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a briefing on Sept. 8. China accounted for about 9 percent of India’s total trade last year, up from 6 percent a decade ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. India-Japan trade fell to 2 percent from 3 percent in the same period.
When former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited India in 2010, Chinese companies signed $16 billion of deals with Indian counterparts, including an $8.3 billion sale of coal-fired power generators by Shanghai Electric Group Co. to Reliance Power Ltd.
Xi dropped his first Pakistan visit from his itinerary with China citing concern about anti-government protests that are seeking to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over allegations of vote rigging.