BEIJING, (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit China this week for an informal meeting with President Xi Jinping, as efforts at rapprochement gather pace following a testing year in ties between the two giant neighbours.
The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said the two would meet on Friday and Saturday in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“Our common interests far outweigh our differences. The two countries have no choice other than pursuing everlasting friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation and common development,” Wang told reporters after meeting Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in Beijing. “The summit will go a long way towards deepening the mutual trust between the two great neighbours,” he added. “We will make sure that the informal summit will be a complete success and a new milestone in the history of China-India relations.”
Modi has sought to re-set ties after disputes over issues including their disputed border with Tibet and other issues.
The discussion with Wang was to prepare for the informal summit, Swaraj said.
“It will be an important occasion for them (Modi and Xi) to exchange views on bilateral and international matters, from an overarching and long-term perspective with the objective of enhancing mutual communication,” Swaraj said.
The Asian giants were locked in a 73-day military stand-off in a remote, high-altitude stretch of that boundary last year. At one point, soldiers from the two sides threw stones and punches.
The confrontation between the nuclear-armed powers in the Himalayas underscored Indian alarm at China’s expanding security and economic links in South Asia.
China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative of transport and energy links bypasses India, apart from a corner of the disputed Kashmir region, also claimed by Pakistan, but involves India’s neighbours Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives.
Modi’s previously unannounced Wuhan trip is even more unusual in that he will visit China again in June for a summit in Qingdao of the China and Russia-led security grouping, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which India joined last year.
It is almost unheard of for foreign leaders to visit China twice in such close succession. Xi is also extending Modi the rare honour of a meeting outside of Beijing, which almost never happens unless there is a multilateral summit taking place.
Modi’s nationalist government has reversed course on its relationship with Beijing apparently after realising its hard line on China was not working.
Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who lives in India and who China considers a dangerous separatist, is also facing the cold shoulder.
In March, India issued an unprecedented ban on Tibetans holding a rally with the Dalai Lama in New Delhi to mark the 60th anniversary of the start of the failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Other areas of disagreement remain however between Beijing and New Delhi.