Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed China’s president for an early resolution to their festering border dispute on Thursday, robust comments that overshadowed a Chinese pledge of $20 billion in investments and support for India’s greater role in the United Nations Security Council.
Modi’s comments, made in the presence of Xi Jinping, came as Indian and Chinese troops faced off in Ladakh, the latest in a string of border incursions that have remained a perpetual irritant in relations that have otherwise improved over increased trade and business.
“I raised our serious concern over repeated incidents along the border,” a stern-looking Modi told journalists with Xi sitting to his right.
“We agreed that peace and tranquillity in the border region constitute an essential foundation for mutual trust and confidence and for realizing the full potential of our relationship.”
Although Modi rode to power on a promise to build a more assertive India, his comments are seen as surprisingly tough, especially after the warm start to Xi’s visit that was expected to be more about boosting economic ties.
The two sides have held 17 rounds of border talks since the early 1990s without making significant progress. Modi has not assigned a special envoy to restart the talks since he took office in May.
"We have to address the boundary question very soon," the prime minister said, urging "clarification" of the Line of Actual Control – the front line where fighting ended in the 1962 war.
“Similarly, we discussed India's concerns relating to China's visa policy and trans-border rivers.”
But Xi sought to play down the tensions and agreed with Modi that they should work to settle the border question at an early date, reiterating language China has used in the past.
"Sometimes there might be certain incidents, but the two sides are fully capable of acting promptly to effectively manage the situation," he said, describing the border dispute as “leftover from the colonial rule”.
The two sides agreed on investments aimed at significantly upgrading their commercial ties, with China pledging $20 billion over the next five years for industrial parks and infrastructure including railway technology.
They agreed to begin talks on cooperating in the nuclear power industry and Xi said China would support India’s becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – a regional security body whose largest members are China and Russia.
At a separate event, Xi said China would support India's aspiration to play a greater role at the United Nations, including on the Security Council. He did not give detail.
Tight security near the venue of the talks in central Delhi threw traffic into disarray. Dozens of Tibetan protesters, mostly women, managed to stage a noisy protest outside the venue after the two leaders began their meeting.
The protesters shouted "China: Hands off Tibet!" as police pushed and shoved them into buses.
(With input from agencies)