Sushma Swaraj lays silk road for PM Modi’s China visit in May

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • Updated: Feb 01, 2015 23:52 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to China before his government completes a year in power on May 26. The announcement was made Sunday by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who is on a three-day official trip to the neighbour country.

Hindustan Times was the first to report Modi's proposed trip to China, breaking it on the web on January 28.

"Modiji is going to come in May. I will give them dates today. This is a preparatory visit," she told media after addressing the Indian community.

Setting the stage for PM Modi's first visit, Swaraj said that India was committed to an early settlement of the dragging boundary dispute between the two countries.

Swaraj said Sino-India relations had considerably progressed and expanding defence ties were a reflection of this.

"On the boundary question, my government is committed to exploring an early settlement," Swaraj said while addressing the India-China media forum in Beijing at the start of her maiden visit to China.

Exchanges and contacts between the militaries of the two sides have contributed to maintaining peace and stability in border areas, she said.

"We have made considerable progress in establishing and expanding defence contacts and exchanges, including across our border. They contribute to the maintenance of peace and tranquillity there, a pre-requisite for the further development of our relationship," she said.

Swaraj said she was on a preparatory trip ahead of the PM's visit. Sino-Indian ties are set to get a boost when Modi visits and the foreign minister said she would talk to the Chinese leadership about the dates for the trip.

During her address at the India-China media forum, Swaraj outlined a six-point template to broaden bilateral engagements.

It included an action-oriented approach, broad-based bilateral engagement, convergence on common regional and global interests, developing new areas of cooperation, expanding strategic communication and fulfilling common aspiration to usher in an "Asian Century".

Swaraj is visiting China shortly after India and the US unveiled a Joint Strategic Vision aimed at responding "to diplomatic, economic and security challenges" in Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region.

Security analysts said the document, made public during US president Barack Obama's recent visit to Delhi, marked a significant shift in India's stated position of not acting as a credible balancing power in the region. Since 2012, the US has egged India to become the "lynchpin" in its Asia-Pacific military strategy.

India and China fought a brief but bitter border war in 1962 and Beijing continues to lay claim to large swathes of Indian territory despite bilateral trade touching a record $74 billion in 2011.

Touching on economic ties, Swaraj said both countries should make it easier for companies to do business.

"We will make it easier for Chinese companies to do business in India and expect that similar encouragement would be given to our companies to expand their business in China," she said.

The two economies were "moving to invest in each other. Serious discussions on enhancing connectivity have been initiated.
On that foundation, we are now seeking to take our economic cooperation to a qualitatively new level."

She added: "A particularly significant new area of collaboration is in railways. This includes heavy haulage, speed upgradation, station development and capacity building. Another major thrust is in establishing industrial parks in two Indian states that would contribute to the 'Make in India' initiative."

Following an extensive meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Swaraj also announced that an alternate route for the Kailash Mansarovar yatra, through the Nathula pass in Sikkim, will be opened in June.

"Another recent development worth noting is the establishment of our first sister-province ties between Gujarat and Guangdong. But what is of special resonance in my country is the understanding to open an additional route through Nathula for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra."

Five batches of 250 pilgrims will be able to travel on the new route which is less arduous and goes through a motor-able road on the Chinese side. "Wang Yi had been told about the new route when he had come to India," Swaraj said.

Reports have suggested that Modi will visit the pilgrimage site through the new route on his way to China. Xi is expected to take Modi to Xian, capital of his home province of Shaanxi to reciprocate the Indian leader's decision to take him to Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

The two foreign ministers also discussed other key matters like the resolution of the boundary issue, trade deficit and inviting Chinese investment into India.

"Both countries now have strong leaders with will power. We both agree that the boundary issue should not be left as a legacy for future generations. I am hopeful (about a resolution)," Swaraj said.

She added that New Delhi had conveyed to Beijing that President Xi Jinping's Maritime Silk Road project should be synergy based. Under the project, Xi envisages a sea trade route connecting continents. "It has to be synergy based… cannot be a blanket end (on the Indian side). We want our connectivity."

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