Before Visit, China Downplays Frictions with India

By Christopher Bodeen 17 May 2013

BEIJING — China downplayed border tensions with India on Thursday, days before the new Chinese premier visits the neighboring country on his first foreign visit since taking office in March.

Disagreements over the Himalayan frontier can be handled under existing mechanisms and should not affect overall relations, Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao told reporters at a briefing.

“China and India have historical border issues, but these are outweighed by our mutual interests and cooperation,” Song said.

Song made no direct mention of a recent three-week standoff between border troops that had threatened to overshadow Li Keqiang’s visit that begins Sunday.

The sides negotiated a peaceful end to the standoff, although India’s foreign minister last week said the two needed to work harder to avoid border flare-ups and resolve those that do happen more quickly.

New Delhi claimed Chinese troops crossed the de facto border on April 15 and pitched camp in the Depsang valley in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir. India responded with diplomatic protests, then moved its soldiers just 300 meters from the Chinese position. A series of meetings were held, and troops from both sides withdrew last week to their original positions.

The nations often accuse each other of crossing the frontier high in the western Himalayas or of violating agreements with new construction or boosted deployments. Throughout the incident, China said its troops stayed on their side of the line of actual control that Beijing and New Delhi recognize as lying in different places.

Asian giants with more than 1 billion people each, India and China have had chilly relations since they fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962.

India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers of territory in the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas, while China claims around 90,000 square kilometers in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Fifteen rounds of talks have failed to resolve the dispute.

Song said Li’s choice of India for his first overseas visit as premier was a sign of the importance Beijing attaches to improving relations with New Delhi. He said Li would meet with top leaders and attend a business summit among other activities.

China has become India’s biggest trading partner, with two-way trade jumping from $5 billion in 2002 to nearly $75 billion in 2011, although that figure declined to $61.5 billion last year.

Most of that trade is skewed in China’s favor, stirring complaints and suspicions over major Chinese investments in Indian infrastructure.

Li will follow his Indian trip with a visit to close Chinese ally Pakistan before traveling to Switzerland and Germany on visits tightly focused on economic ties.