NEW DELHI, May 20 – Visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang holds talks with a string of Indian leaders Monday as the two sides look to rebuild trust after a recent flare-up in a border dispute as well as boost trade.
Li, who arrived in India on Sunday afternoon, has said his decision to choose Delhi for his first foreign visit since taking office “indicates the great importance Beijing attaches to its relations” with New Delhi.
India for its part has been keen to ensure that a spat over troop movements in a disputed Himalayan border region last month is not allowed to derail a general warming in ties between the world’s two most populous countries.
After informal talks between Li and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on Sunday night, the two were to hold more detailed discussions on Monday.
Li is also scheduled to meet Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi and senior figures from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party before heading on Tuesday to the financial hub, Mumbai.
India’s joint foreign secretary for East Asia, Gautam Bambawale, said at the weekend that “everything is on the table” for discussion with Li, including the border dispute in the remote Ladakh region, which has been the subject of 15 rounds of high-level talks.
The row again flared last month after Delhi alleged Chinese troops intruded nearly 20 kilometres (12 miles) into Indian-claimed territory, triggering a three-week standoff that was resolved when troops from both sides pulled back.
The Line of Actual Control between the nuclear-armed neighbours has never been formally demarcated, although they have signed accords to maintain peace in the region that was the site of a brief Indo-Chinese war in 1962.
The dispute almost led Khurshid to cancel a visit to Beijing before the pullback agreement, despite his insistence that the row should not serve to “destroy” recent diplomatic progress.
Sujit Dutta, a China expert at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, said Beijing could become more assertive in such disputes under its new leadership.
“As Beijing’s new leadership is making a concerted effort to challenge India’s territorial assertions, India will have to plan new attempts to bridge the perceptional distances between these two huge neighbours,” Dutta told AFP.
Other observers said there is a general acceptance that the border dispute should not be allowed to block progress in other areas.
“The India-China border dispute is unlikely to be resolved any time soon but (Li’s) visit… is likely to give impetus to bilateral and trade ties,” said the Hindustan Times in a front-page article at the weekend.
China is India’s second-largest trading partner, with two-way commerce totalling $66.5 billion last year.
Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Yaoping told reporters last week he was optimistic that the target of reaching $100 billion by 2015 would be met.
But the figure in 2012 was in fact a fall from the $74 billion for 2011 and India is also facing an increasing trade deficit with China that totalled $29 billion in 2012.
“The ballooning trade figures with China need urgent attention because importing Chinese goods is easy but exporting goods or services immensely difficult,” said Dutta.
“Balancing the economic relationship should be India’s priority.
Several major roads in the Indian capital have been closed to prevent Tibetan protestors from disrupting the visit while exile groups complained of heavy-handed policing in their neighbourhoods.
“The police has denied us permission to protest in New Delhi and police deployment in Tibetan resident areas has been intensified. They are not allowing young Tibetans to walk in groups,” said Tsering Choedup, a regional coordinator for the International Tibet Network.
After wrapping up his visit to India, Li is due to travel to neighbouring Pakistan before heading to Switzerland and Germany.