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Modi-Xi Talks Highlight India-China Rivalry, Cooperation

In this photo released by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, center right, sit with delegation members for a meeting in Wuhan, China, April 27, 2018.

The leaders of China and India stressed the importance of close ties in talks Saturday, against the background of their rivalry for leadership in Asia and the potential for cooperation on economic and security matters.

Solid China-India relations "are an important factor for global peace and stability," Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted as telling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an informal summit in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Saturday.

The two Asian giants should "engage in even closer strategic communication," Xi was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying.

In a tweet, Modi said discussions over tea had been productive and that "Strong India-China friendship is beneficial for the people of our nations and the entire world."

Talks touched on economic issues, along with people-to-people relations, agriculture, technology, energy and tourism, Modi said in his tweet.

The meeting comes amid tensions over the contested China-India border and a rivalry for influence with smaller neighbors.

China-India relations date back centuries but in recent years have been characterized by competition for leadership in Asia.

The countries fought a border war in 1962 and last year engaged in a 10-week standoff. New Delhi has also been alarmed by China's moves to build ties with Indian Ocean nations including India's longtime rival Pakistan.

China, for its part, resents India's hosting of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and its control of territory Beijing says belongs to it.

Following the most protracted standoff in years, India last year agreed to pull back troops from the disputed Doklam Plateau high in the Himalayas, where Chinese troops had begun constructing a road. China claims the strategically important region, but India says it belongs to ally Bhutan.

Despite such differences, Modi hopes China can help drive Indian economic growth ahead of national elections next year. He also appears intent on building a strong personal relationship with Xi, who will be China's leader for years to come following the lifting of term limits on the presidency.

However, Modi's administration has been notably reluctant to engage with Beijing's "Belt and Road" initiative linking its economy to those of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe through massive loans and investments.

Modi will travel to China again in June for a summit of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is dominated by Beijing and Moscow. Along with China, Russia and India, that group includes the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Pakistan.