India’s prime minister made strong comments to China’s Premier on Friday, calling on the Chinese government to reconsider how it responds to India’s grievances, the New York Times reported.
“I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership,” Mr. Modi said in televised remarks at China’s Great Hall of the People. “I suggested that China should take a strategic and long-term view of our relations.”
The Times notes that India’s long-running border dispute with China and the heavy trade imbalance in China’s favour continue to undermine Modi’s efforts to invigorate the Indian economy and improve relations with one of its “most important strategic” partners, according to the Times.
Indeed, Modi’s remarks deviated from the often tepid language most Asian leaders stick to when dealing publicly with Beijing, the Times reported, a reflection of Modi’s determination to “to set a new direction between the two largest Asian countries” once and for all.
“For him to say we hope the Chinese will reconsider their approach — it’s very politely put, and he added that he saw sensitivity to India’s concerns,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Wire, an online Indian news site, told the Times. “But that’s quite a strong way to put it.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang after a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on May 15, 2015.
The two nations’ long-running border dispute remains the elephant in the room. The 3,500 km border has been in dispute since 1914 when Britain signed an agreement with Tibet placing the de-facto border along the Himalayas from Bhutan in the west to the Brahmaputra River in the east.
China has rejected the border, and a tense three-week standoff in 2013 prompted India to announce the creation of an ambitious $US10 billion plan to place 90,000 troops at the border to counter Chinese forces across the Himalayas.
As Modi met with Premier Li Keqiang on Friday, however, India’s government announced that it would be scaling down the plan significantly. The force will only be 25-30,000 strong instead of 90,000, and more funds will be allocated to a new aircraft carrier and border roads, Reuters reported.
“The reason for cutting down is finances,” a military official told Reuters. “It’s not just a question of raising a corps, it’s about maintaining it.”
Beijing rethinking its policies toward New Delhi — such as backing off the border disputes — would be beneficial to India’s downsizing plan.
In any case, China Premier Li Keqiang did not seem put off by Modi’s remarks, agreeing with the Prime Minister that “political confidence between our two countries should be strengthened.”
“Our two countries have enough political wisdom to manage and control” our differences, Li added. “Our common interests are far bigger than our differences.”
Some progress was made: Modi and Li signed 24 agreements covering education, railways, and scientific research worth $US10 billion, BBC reported.
Commentators have noted that Modi and Keqiang are attempting “selfie diplomacy” — a reference to the friendly selfie Modi took with Premier Li after their meeting “in a rare show of everyman charm.”
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