Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in southern India on Friday for talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to try to halt a slide in ties over the disputed Himalayan Region of Kashmir amid scattered anti-China protests from Tibetan groups.
China and its all-weather ally Pakistan have been angered by India’s decision two months ago to revoke the special status of the part of Kashmir it controls, which was accompanied by a crackdown on dissent.
India says it is an internal matter aimed at developing the region and there was no room for a third country to be involved after Xi said he was watching the situation closely and assured Pakistan of Chinese support.
In a move to tighten its grip on Jammu and Kashmir, parts of which are claimed by Pakistan and China, India, in early August, dropped a constitutional provision that allowed the country’s only Muslim-majority state to make its own laws.
President Xi arrived on Friday in the southern city of Chennai where Modi was to take him on a tour of the nearby Shore Temple dating back to the seventh and eighth centuries when regional kingdoms had direct ties with Chinese provinces.
Indian officials say they expect China to respect its core concerns in the same way, including over the issue of Kashmir.
Modi and Xi will be aiming to move forward on a set of confidence-building measures during the informal summit in Mamallapuram, a short distance from Chennai, an Indian source briefed on the discussions said.
India and China share a 3,500 km (2,200 miles) border, over which they went to war in 1962. Its course remains unresolved despite more than 20 rounds of talks.
The border has been largely peaceful, but there have been occasional stand-offs between soldiers from the two Asian giants.
The measures on the table include more border trade, tourism and even joint military patrols to boost trust, said the source.
“Priority will be given to enhancing confidence-building measures and people-to-people exchanges,” a second government source said.
Modi and Xi will also discuss India’s ballooning trade deficit with China and the question of allowing Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei into India’s 5G network.
“Xi will have in-depth communication with Modi on issues that have overall, long-term and strategic significance on bilateral relations, set the tune and guide the direction for the future development of the ties,” Chinese state media quoted Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui as saying.
Xi will head to Nepal on Saturday, the first Chinese president to visit the buffer state between India and China in 22 years.
“We need to make greater efforts to develop a Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network across the Himalayas,” he wrote in an article in three Nepali newspapers.
China has been building infrastructure in Nepal along with other South Asian countries as part of Xi’s signature Belt & Road Initiative, raising disquiet in India which long saw countries such as Nepal as part of its sphere of influence.
But C. Raja Mohan, an influential foreign affairs commentator, said China had pulled way ahead of India after decades of rapid growth and that limited Delhi’s options.
China’s economy was nearly five times larger than that of India and its annual defence spending four times larger, he wrote in a column in the Indian Express.
“This power imbalance translates into an unpleasant fact on the diplomatic front – that China is under no pressure to please India,” Mohan said.