NEW DELHI - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is calling for his country and China to work together to create a better future for the world. India and China are expected to ramp up commercial ties during a visit by China's president this week, but a border skirmish has put the spotlight on a longstanding boundary dispute that has fostered mistrust in their political ties.
Modi sounded optimistic as he prepared to greet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, saying “our relations have a unique chemistry that can make for a defining moment.” He told Chinese journalists the two countries should work together to not only propel the Asian giants forward, but all of Asia and the wider world.
But a day before the Chinese leader is to come to India, another skirmish was reported between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed Himalayan border. It was the latest in a series of border confrontations that have raised Indian suspicions of Beijing’s intentions.
Asserting that India is ready to defend its border, India’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the boundary dispute would be on the agenda of the two leaders.
“Our brave sentinels on the border will address any issue that happens on the border," he said. "We are confident that our borders are in safe hands... as regards issues on the table here, there are unresolved issues including the boundary question. Would that be addressed? My answer to that is “yes.”
Although no quick solutions are expected to a dispute that has dragged on since a 1962 war, both sides have said it should not impede relations.
Xi's visit is expected to be dominated by announcements of billions of dollars of investments by Beijing in Indian railways, manufacturing and infrastructure projects.
India has been pitching for more Chinese investment to address a trade imbalance that has ballooned to more than $35 billion in China’s favor. Some observers said the Chinese leader could promise India more investment than Japan, which recently pledged $34 billion.
Even as their commercial relationship gains momentum, both Asian giants are also seeking to expand their strategic footprint in Asia.
The Chinese leader lands in India after visiting Sri Lanka and the Maldives - the first ever visit by a Chinese president to these countries. In Sri Lanka he is to launch the construction of a Chinese-funded $1.4 billion port city.
While such investments have raised China’s clout in the region, which includes shipping lanes vital for Chinese industry, they also have fuelled suspicions in India of being hemmed in by Beijing.
And New Delhi in turn is trying to raise its profile in East Asia.
India on Monday extended a $100 million export credit to Vietnam for defense deals and agreed to cooperate to explore for oil in the South China Sea, overriding Chinese objections. Modi has also visited Japan recently to build close strategic ties.
Strategic analyst, Bhaskar Roy, with the South Asia Analysis Group in New Delhi, said it signaled that Modi would lead a more confident foreign policy.
“Modi can call a spade a spade a little more forcefully, and you know come about more clearly with our concerns. We need to also live to our size and development,” said Roy.
The Chinese president will begin his visit on Wednesday in Modi’s home state, Gujarat, where he is expected to sign agreements to build an industrial park.