Rebuilding trust and boosting border stability will top the agenda of talks when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits China this week.
The two nations will hope to boost ties and expand their mutual influence in Asia through multilateral efforts.
Modi was due to arrive in Xian – the home town of President Xi Jinping – on Thursday for a three-day visit, which will also see him travel to Beijing and Shanghai before he leaves for Mongolia and South Korea.
Xi visited Modi’s home state of Gujarat during his trip to India in September.
These rare visits to each other’s respective home towns are widely viewed as an attempt to boost the friendship between the two state leaders.
Analysts said Modi’s visit would help rebuild trust between the two nations, which was weakened in January when Modi and US President Barack Obama signed a new strategic partnership agreement involving greater co-operation in the Indian Ocean region.
“Through that agreement, the United States is wanting to use India to counter China,” said Wang Dehua, a professor of South Asian studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
“But Modi is aware of the importance of maintaining a balanced diplomatic policy, and this explains why he wants to come to China, just eight months after Xi visited India.”
Modi is expected to hold wide-ranging talks with both Xi and Premier Li Keqiang on the areas including bilateral and economic exchanges.
The two nations could also sign investment pacts worth more that US$10 billion, Chinese foreign ministry officials said.
The US-India agreement – which has drawn criticism from Beijing – placed an emphasis on protecting regional security with statements apparently targeting China over its territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
“Since Modi came to power last year, he has done many things to try to assert India’s influence over neighboring nations, especially over India’s presence in the Indian Ocean region,” said Fang.
In March, after signing the agreement with the US, Modi embarked on an ambitious tour of neighbouring southern Asian nations, including Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the Seychelles, to secure economic and security cooperation.
These visits were meant to rally support to counter China’s growing influence in India’s backyard – especially after Beijing proposed its “one belt, one road” economic initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to encourage greater cooperation with nations, including those in South Asia, that once came within the ancient Silk Belt economic route, Fang said.
“Through his visit to Xi’s hometown, as well as private talks with Xi and official summits with mainland leaders, Modi possibly hopes to redefine India’s relations with China [through stronger strategic and economic co-operation].”
“The major attention should be on stabilising the border by possible confidence-building measures or other efforts,” Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi said.
Last week, the Chinese foreign ministry confirmed that border stability would be covered in the talks between the leaders.
“We have to wait for the discussion and see how China responds,” he said.
Looking ahead, analysts agreed that relations between India and China would continue to see them compete for regional influence, while keeping away from military conflicts.
Sino-India relations has long been regarded as highly complex because of their competitive, yet cooperative ties.
While Beijing has been irked by New Delhi’s permission for the Dalai Lama to set up a sanctuary base in India, it has to maintain friendly ties with Asia’s second largest country to keep it from being wooed by the US.
However, territorial disputes have often led to military stand-offs along their shared border, including a serious one in September, just when Xi was visiting India.
South China Morning Post