China cultivates India amid tension with neighbors

Jun 12 2014, 14:28 IST
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SummaryChinese Premier Li Keqiang was conspicuous in being the first foreign leader to call Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi following Modi's swearing-in last month.

on May 1. Anti-Chinese protests last month spun off into violence, with hundreds of factories looted and burned, four Chinese killed and more than 300 injured.

China and the Philippines are embroiled in a similar dispute, while China has revived its beef with Japan over territory and Tokyo's World War II invasion. Beijing has suspended most government-to-government exchanges with Tokyo and Chinese patrol boats routinely confront Japanese craft in waters surrounding uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.

While Beijing has been strengthening ties with fellow authoritarian state Russia, the conflicts elsewhere on its periphery enhance its sense of encirclement. But India's traditional non-aligned stance has always been attractive to Beijing, and now both sides want to ''get down to work to resolve prickly issues,'' said Manoj Joshi, a leading Indian defense analyst.

The warm sentiments began even before Modi was elected. The new prime minister had already visited China four times during his 12 years as chief minister of the west Indian state of Gujarat. Li, China's premier, made India his first foreign destination after taking office last year.

The thawing in relations also comes amid China's rising concerns about instability in Pakistan, which Beijing fears is being used as a base for militants fighting Chinese rule in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang. China now considers Pakistan as a liability rather than an asset and sees the need to cooperate with India on stabilizing the situation, Huang said.

China is also eager to help revive India's stalled economy, upgrade its crumbling infrastructure and prop up faltering bilateral trade, which dropped to $65 billion last year, with China enjoying a $48 billion surplus.

Having grown into the world's second-largest economy, China offers a road map for reform, particularly in an Indian manufacturing industry that is crucial for Modi to fulfill his promise to create the jobs needed for the 13 million youths entering India's labor market every year.

Despite the new friendliness, Huang and other observers see little chance of an end to the border dispute after 17 rounds of talks, although Joshi said recent Chinese pronouncements seem to indicate a heightened desire for progress.

The key issue, observers say, will be avoiding flare-ups such as a three-week standoff last year between border guards from the two countries.

''More important than a resolution ... is to not let the border issue affect the overall relations,'' said Wang Lian of Peking

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