In his first meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping here on Monday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to up the stakes and project India-China ties on the global stage, stating that if the two countries “could amicably resolve the boundary question, it would set an example for the entire world on peaceful conflict resolution”.
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Within three hours of arriving in Brazil’s northeastern city of Fortaleza, Modi drove a kilometre from his hotel to the Gran Marquise, where Xi is staying, for a meeting that stretched from the scheduled 40 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes. Xi too headed to the meeting shortly after his arrival, indicating the importance the two leaders attached to the relationship.
With the two countries sharing a 4,000-km long border, periodic incursions by China and its claims over Arunachal Pradesh have long been an irritant to ties that have expanded in multiple spheres, particularly economic. India’s economy too has grown at a rapid pace over the last decade, and it has found its place at the global high table, becoming a member of the G20 that came into existence after the 2008 financial crisis.
Given the size of the two countries, with a combined population of over 2.5 billion, Xi is learnt to have said during the discussions that “when India and China meet, the whole world watches”.
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The meeting, described as “substantive, warm and cordial”, touched on several regional and international issues besides almost all aspects on the bilateral agenda. Modi invoked the civilisational linkages between India and China and their shared heritage to reinforce people-to-people ties.
Both sides emphasised the need to find a solution to the boundary question. The two leaders observed that India and China had enormous opportunities to not only forge mutually beneficial partnerships, but also serve as catalytic agents of Asian and global prosperity.
Modi also stressed on the need to work together to tackle terrorism and extremism in the region, ensure greater economic cooperation and pare trade deficit. He invited Chinese investment in industrial corridors and other infrastructure sectors.
In a gesture that acknowledges India´s rise, Xi invited Modi to participate in the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting on partnership and connectivity that China is hosting in November. APEC, which has 21 member countries including China, Russia, Australia, USA, Korea and Japan, is a grouping that promotes trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region.
“This is the first time that India has been invited. It is a significant gesture. We will follow it up now,” said MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
Xi accepted Modi’s invitation to visit India in September. “We are finalising the dates,” Akbaruddin said. Xi also invited Modi to China. Referring to his earlier visits, Modi said he would be glad to go there again.
The Chinese President also evinced interest in India deepening its cooperation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The SCO was created in 1996 after a treaty on deepening military trust in the border region was signed between China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia and Kazakhstan. At present, India is an observer country. “Should the SCO want greater Indian engagement, India stands ready to accept that responsibility too,” Modi is learnt to have told Xi.
Referring to the difficulties he faced while visiting Kailash Mansarovar several years ago, Modi suggested that China open a new route for Indian pilgrims. “If China provides another route, travel for Indian pilgrims will be much easier. The numbers would swell,” Modi is learnt to have told Xi. The Chinese President accepted the suggestion and said Beijing would consider providing an alternate route.
Xi spoke about Modi’s focus on development as the Gujarat Chief Minister. “The Prime Minister also referred to Xi’s experiences, as reflected through his speeches before he became the President of China,” said an official spokesperson. This enabled the two leaders to exchange their views without any constraints as the bilateral meeting progressed, the spokesperson added.
Modi said India’s trade deficit with China must reduce through increased Indian exports. Xi stressed the need for a much more balanced trade for trade ties to be sustainable. “Enhanced trade in services, higher Indian exports and increased tourism from China to India, can bring the deficit down,” Xi is learnt to have noted. India suffered a $31 billion trade deficit in 2013 on a $65.47 billion bilateral trade.
The Modi-Xi dialogue is the fourth high-level meeting between the two countries in the last six weeks. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited India in June as a special envoy of the President. Vice President Hamid Ansari held bilateral discussions with his counterpart Li Yuanchao during a five-day visit in June. Indian Army Chief General Bikram Singh visited China earlier this month.