Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in the ancient Silk Road city of Xi'an today as part of a three-day visit to China aimed at drumming up trade while managing a tricky relationship beset by a border row and tussle for influence in Asia.
India and China have strong trade ties, with bilateral trade hitting US$72 billion (S$96.2 billion) last year, but also nurse a festering dispute along several areas of their 4,000km-long border.
India is concerned about China's increasing presence in its neighbourhood, including massive Chinese investments in the parts of disputed Kashmir that are in Pakistan but claimed by India.
Ahead of his visit, Mr Modi struck a positive note, saying he had been wanting to travel to China since taking power last year.
"I believe that my trip to China will not only deepen the China-India friendship, but also set a new milestone for the relations between developing countries in Asia," Mr Modi told the Chinese media in Delhi yesterday. During his visit, he will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xi'an and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing. He will also interact with corporate leaders in Shanghai.
A breakthrough on the border row is not expected and Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said bilateral talks would cover "a full range of political issues... economic issues relating to trade (and) investment, (and) collaboration on infrastructure projects".
Analysts in India and China believe the highlights of the visit will be economic and cultural.
The two sides are expected to take forward issues that were formalised during Mr Xi's visit to India last year, including building on the Five-Year Trade and Economic Development Plan. Mr Modi is hoping to attract Chinese investments in manufacturing and infrastructure and reduce the trade deficit, which grew 34 per cent to US$48.43 billion last year.
He wants to sign US$10 billion worth of agreements with China, India's largest trading partner.
He will also launch a Gandhi and Indian Studies Centre in Shanghai and a yoga college in south-western Yunnan province. Mr Modi will begin his trip in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi, Mr Xi's home province.
Sino-Indian expert Jiang Jingkui said of this: "China is giving Modi special treatment with President Xi Jinping welcoming him in Xi'an, in reciprocation of him hosting the Chinese leader in his home state of Gujarat.
"It also stems from a commitment to deepening Sino-Indian ties, with both economies reaching a mutually beneficial stage - India's economy needs infrastructure and manufacturing while China's slowing economy needs overseas markets."
Said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh: "This is an important visit and Mr Modi will come back with a clearer idea of where India stands with China."
The Chinese media and analysts have largely struck a positive tone over Mr Modi's trip, pointing out that his decision to visit China ahead of his one-year anniversary in office reflects China's significance to the Indian leader.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said of the visit:"We believe both leaders will exchange in-depth views on ways to deepen and advance our strategic partnership."
This article was first published on May 14, 2015.
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