Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be accorded a rare “highest-level reception” by President Xi Jinping as the two leaders look to deepen their personal ties, Chinese official media said on Thursday.
“Modi will begin his first trip to China since taking office a year ago by visiting the temple where Buddhist monk Xuanzang translated scriptures after an epic 17-year journey to India,” a report in the state-run China Daily said.
“He will be given the highest-level reception when he arrives on Thursday, with President Xi Jinping accompanying him throughout his stay in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province. It is very rare for Chinese leaders to accompany foreign guests outside Beijing,” the report said, highlighting Modi’s Chinese microblog tweet stating “President Xi invited me to visit his hometown.”
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Modi will be given formal state reception with guard of honour before his talks with Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Friday. He is due to arrive in Beijing from Xian later on Thursday night.
Xi’s family is from Shaanxi province, and when he visited India in September, the trip began with Modi greeting the Chinese president in his home state Gujarat.
“I expect to visit the famous historic city closely related to Xuanzang,” Modi had said. Xuanzang was a key figure in Chinese Buddhism who lived during the early years of the Tang Dynasty (AD 617-907). He set off on his arduous trip to India, studied there for 17 years, then brought back many Buddhist sutras and translated them into Chinese.
“Xi’an symbolizes the two countries’ cultural exchanges,” said Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
“It’s apparent the leaders are seeking to deepen their personal ties and highlight the two civilizations’ cultural links by making Xi’an the first stop,” he said.
Hu said Xi’an, previously known as Chang’an, was a major city at the start of the ancient Silk Road, and the visit is a way for Modi to welcome China’s “One Belt, One Road Initiative”.
“Last year, you all saw how Prime Minister Modi warmly welcomed President Xi. This time you will also see President Xi and Premier Li (Keqiang) welcome Prime Minister Modi in a special way,” the daily quoted Indian Ambassador Ashok Kantha as saying.