NEW DELHI — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang begins a three-day visit to India Sunday. His visit comes in the wake of a tense border standoff in the Himalayan mountains, but the Asian giants are trying to downplay the disagreement.
Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said it was appreciated that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is making India the first stop of his first overseas tour since taking office.
“We think very highly of this gesture….the object of such visits and meetings is to enhance trust and understanding between our two governments and our people as well as to exhibit sensitivity to each other's concerns.”
The Chinese premier and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, are expected to address how to smooth over a lingering border dispute - a root cause of their trust deficit.
The Chinese leader’s visit comes less than two weeks after the two sides ended a tense border standoff that began when India strongly protested what it called a Chinese incursion into the Ladakh region of the Himalayas. Tensions subsided when both sides restored the status quo.
Since then, both countries have made conciliatory moves and indicated that the process of settling their unmarked border should be speeded up. Numerous rounds of talks since the 1990s have made little headway.
Although the border dispute will figure more prominently than earlier planned, a significant focus of the visit will be the blossoming economic ties between the two big, fast-growing Asian economies.
Premier Li will be accompanied by a large business delegation, and will visit the financial hub of Mumbai, where he will meet top business leaders and visit India’s largest Information Technology company, Tata Consultancy Services.
Indian leaders are likely to urge Premier Li to do more to fix a trade deficit. Although bilateral trade grew to $76 billion last year, there are concerns in New Delhi that the trade is skewed in China’s favor.
New Delhi wants more access for its companies in the IT and pharmaceutical sectors, where India has an advantage. Indian officials say “they hope for results very soon.”
Alka Acharya, a professor of Chinese studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, says economic ties are the most dynamic factor of the relationship between India and China.
“We have now a whole lot of entrepreneurs who are moving back and forth. There is enormous scope here, not just in bilateral trade, but if can move ahead some of the ticklish issues, then we can but we have this whole slew of investments, joint ventures, infrastructure and so on. It is a very solid factor, this growth in trade, and both countries would like to see it grow.”
Indian officials say the priority for New Delhi in this visit is to set the relationship with the new administration in China, which changed this March.
From India, Premier Li will travel to China’s long-time ally, Pakistan. Although India’s ties with both countries have been improving, it remains wary of both its northern neighbors and views their friendship with a measure of distrust.