China offers helping hand for India's economic growth

China promised help for India's economic development yesterday, saying that the two Asian giants should not allow a simmering border dispute to affect their overall relations.

Beijing became the first major power to establish high-level contact with the two-week-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi beginning a two-day visit as the special envoy of President Xi Jinping.

He held talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj yesterday, and is due to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi today.

The visit is more about symbolism. No significant announcements are expected about relations between the world's two most populous nations, which have burgeoning trade ties but also a decades-old border dispute.

"Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that economic development is something which China supports, the economic development of India is something that is supported by the Chinese government. It is good for the world and it is good for China, and they would look at the possibilities of expanding the economic cooperation between our two countries," said Mr Gautam Bambawale, a joint secretary in the Indian Foreign Ministry, after the meeting.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the talks were "useful", as there was an expansive engagement between the two foreign ministers within the first fortnight of the new government assuming office.

Mr Modi, who won a decisive victory in last month's polls on promises to revive a flagging economy, is expected to focus on bridging a US$40 billion (S$50.1 billion) trade deficit with China, India's largest trading partner.

But Mr Modi and the fiercely nationalist BJP are also expected to stand their ground over the border dispute. Special envoys of the two countries have held more than a dozen rounds of talks in the last decade to resolve their differences over the Himalayan frontier without success so far.

Mr Akbaruddin described the row as a "perennial" problem of the India-China engagement. He said all perennial issues were discussed comprehensively, and in a frank and cordial manner.

In an interview with The Hindu newspaper published yesterday, Mr Wang said the "boundary question is indeed a difficult one".

"But with strong will and resolve, we will eventually find a solution. 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," he added.

Mr Bambawale said Mrs Swaraj spoke with Mr Wang on how to promote Chinese investment into India, including through establishing industrial zones or parks.

"One of the ways of correcting trade imbalance is for that country to invest in India," he said, adding that Mr Wang was receptive to Mrs Swaraj's suggestions.

Analysts said his visit was mainly about Beijing familiarising itself with the new government.

"The problem will arise if one of the transgressions of the Chinese army becomes public and critical," said Professor Srikanth Kondapalli of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, referring to the incidents of Chinese troops crossing into disputed territory.

"If one of these become public, then the whole thing will go two steps backwards," he said, referring to the new engagement.

This article was first published on June 9, 2014.
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