NEW DELHI —
The Chinese and Indian foreign ministers have discussed ways to ease border tensions and enhance economic engagement in the Indian capital. It is the first high level interaction between the Asian giants since a new government took power in India.
Following a three-hour meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, Indian officials said both countries agreed there is tremendous untapped potential in their economic relationship.
Gautam Bambawale of India’s foreign ministry said China would look at the possibility of expanding economic cooperation between the two countries.
“How to promote Chinese investments into India including through possible industrial zones or parks that could be established here was discussed by the two foreign ministers. Foreign Minister Wang also said that economic development of India is something that is supported by the Chinese government,” he said.
Indian officials say more Chinese investment could help bridge the huge trade deficit between the two countries, which they say has ballooned from $1 billion to more than $30 billion in China's favor over the last decade.
New Delhi wants more Chinese investment in infrastructure and manufacturing sectors - areas in which India lags and China excels.
Foreign policy observers in India expect new Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase economic engagement with China as he tries to meet his campaign pledge to revive India's economy.
Before arriving in India, the Chinese foreign minister expressed confidence in India's future in an interview with the Hindu newspaper and said his trip will focus on cementing the two nations' existing friendship and exploring future cooperation.
But the issue that has held back relations between the Asian giants also topped the agenda - their long standing border dispute in the Himalayas, which remains unresolved after years of negotiations. Incidents involving alleged incursions by Chinese troops into what New Delhi says is its territory, have raised tensions in the past year.
India’s foreign ministry spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, said several high level meetings were planned this year. One will include a visit by the Chinese Premier to India.
“As the Chinese saying goes, 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,' and that step was taken today by India’s new government and the Chinese government,” he said.
China has reached out to the new Indian government. The Chinese Premier was the first foreign leader to call and congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his victory. Modi described Beijing as “always a priority in India’s foreign policy.”
Despite taking an aggressive stance during his campaign with countries like China and Pakistan, Modi has adopted a pragmatic and proactive foreign policy approach since taking power. He has indicated that building ties with neighboring countries will be a priority.
As the Chinese minister met Indian leaders in New Delhi, Tibetan activists staged protests in an area dominated by Tibetan refugees in the Indian capital.
Protestors like Tenzing Chodar of the Tibetan Youth Congress said they wanted India to play a greater role in their struggle.
“We are here to raise awareness about Tibet and urge Prime Minister Modi when he meets Chinese foreign minister he should talk about Tibet, raise the issue of Tibet,” said Chodar.
Tibetan refugees usually hold such protests when senior Chinese leaders visit India, which is home to the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. Tibetan leaders in India, who recently launched a renewed push for greater autonomy from Beijing, are hoping for more support from Prime Minister Modi.