By Katy Daigle Associated Press
NEW DELHI — China’s foreign minister met with his Indian counterpart on Sunday, hoping that his two-day visit with India’s new leaders will spur stalled trade between the Asian nations and ease decades of tensions between them.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which took power late last month, for its “sincerity and enthusiasm” in immediately reaching out to China and other countries, according to an interview published Sunday in The Hindu newspaper.
“India was a cradle of splendid ancient civilization, and I am glad to see this country gaining new vigor and vitality,” Wang was quoted as saying. “The international community, impressed by the great opportunities in India, is full of confidence in the future of the country.”
India has long been cautious in its relationship with China amid worries about Beijing’s growing power as well as a decades-old border dispute. During the election campaign, Modi said India did not want a war with China but would be prepared to deal with what he called Beijing’s possible expansionist designs.
However, Modi — who campaigned largely on promises of economic growth — surprised Indians by focusing his first week in office on foreign relations with India’s neighbors, including Pakistan, its traditional archrival. For the first time, India invited South Asian leaders to the prime minister’s inauguration.
The move had the double effect of distracting the Indian public from election-time divisions and confirming India’s key role in the region. It also set the stage for Wang’s visit, signaling China and India could be growing closer.
Wang met Sunday with India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, and planned to meet with Modi on Monday.
Given China’s dominance in the global economy, Modi is expected to court Beijing’s help in reviving India’s stalled economy.
Trade between China and India has also stalled, falling to $65 billion last year, with China enjoying a $48 billion surplus.
India may look to China for lessons on manufacturing, which makes up only 15 percent of India’s economy, compared with 31 percent in China. Enticing foreign investment and factories is seen as crucial for creating jobs in India, where around 13 million youths are entering the labor market each year.
Wang said that India and China were close to deals setting up China-dedicated industrial parks in India, but that China was still hoping for more preferential policies.
He also dismissed the idea that the “difficult” dispute over their 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) Himalayan border should get in the way of improving relations. Seventeen rounds of talks have failed to resolve the dispute, over which the countries fought a brief but bloody war in 1962 and engaged in a three-week standoff last year.
“Even if we could not resolve it for the time being, we could at least manage it effectively, not allowing it to affect the normal development of our relations,” Wang told The Hindu.
China claims around 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of land in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, while India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas.
Earlier Sunday, about 100 Tibetans held a protest in New Delhi, urging Modi to raise the Tibet issue with Wang. China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, while Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent until China occupied it in 1950.
India is now home to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled the region after a failed 1959 uprising and trekked across the snowy Himalayan mountains to the city of Dharamsala in northern India.