NEW DELHI – Just weeks after a tense border standoff, China’s new premier headed to India today for his first foreign trip as the neighboring giants look to speed up efforts to settle a decades-old boundary dispute and boost economic ties.
China says Li Keqiang’s choice of India for his first trip abroad since taking office in March shows the importance Beijing attaches to improving relations with New Delhi.
Jasjit Singh, a defense analyst and director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in New Delhi, said last month’s border standoff, which ended peacefully, was unlikely to overshadow Li’s three-day visit to India. He said Indian and Chinese leaders were likely to review border talks that have failed to produce any breakthrough in the past 10 years despite 15 rounds of discussions. The two sides are also likely to discuss working together in Afghanistan after next year’s U.S. pullout and cooperating with Southeast Asian countries, Singh said.
But tensions run high between the two nations. China already sees itself as Asia’s great power, while India hopes its increasing economic and military might – though still far below its neighbor’s – will eventually put it in the same league.
While China has worked to shore up relationships with Nepal and Sri Lanka in India’s traditional South Asian sphere of influence, India has been venturing into partnerships with Southeast Asian nations.
Other irritants remain in the bilateral relationship. China is a longtime ally and weapons supplier to Pakistan, India’s bitter rival. Also, the presence in India of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile is a source of tension.