By Huizhong Wu
Chinese premier Li Keqiang sits down with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday. Image via Xinhua
Chinese premier Li Keqiang, in India for the first leg of his four-country tour, met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 19 to discuss a wide range of issues, Times of India reports.
The two leaders discussed increasing bilateral trade, with a goal of reaching $100 billion worth in trade by 2015.
Li and Singh also discussed the recent Ladakh incident – when Chinese troops set up an encampment about 19km over the de facto border between India and China.
Singh stressed the importance of peace, especially on the border. No agreements on the border came out during the talks on Sunday.
India and China are two of the world’s biggest economic players. The two countries are very similar, both having long and rich cultural histories and going through rapid economic development as Li pointed out in an op-ed published in the Hindustan Times on May 20.
Li came into the talks planning to improve trade between the two, saying in his op-ed,
Both China and India are big countries in size and in population. Together, the populations of our two countries exceed 2.5 billion and account for nearly 40 per cent of the world’s total. We are viewed as the two most important emerging markets. However, our bilateral trade volume was less than $70 billion last year. This is incompatible with the strength and status of our two countries, but it also points to the huge potential for expanding and upgrading our bilateral trade and business cooperation.
The two currently have an unbalanced trade relationship. According to the BBC, for every dollar’s worth of goods India exports to China currently, three dollars worth of Chinese goods are imported into the country.
Talks are continuing on May 20, and Li will sign agreements then on micro-irrigation, urban waste water management and on beginning meat exports to China among other issues, according to the Times of India.
As mentioned above, the Ladakh incident was discussed at the talk on Sunday. This incursion was the latest in a string of many small-scale but tense incidents regarding the border between the two countries.
The Sino-Indian border is over 4,000 km long and has been disputed for many years, in 1962 the two countries waged a brief war over the border which ended in no concrete agreement.
Manoj Joshi of the Hindustan Times said in an op-ed that the action has to be viewed on two levels.
The first is an established pattern where the PLA keeps nibbling at Indian territory to create new “facts on the ground” or a “new normal” in relation to their claimed LAC. They do this, as they have done in the past — occupy an area, then assert that it has always been part of their territory, and offer to negotiate.
At another level, China appears to be expressing its unhappiness over the Indian military build up on the Sino-Indian border. In the past five years, India has activated forward airfields in the Ladakh sector, completed important road building projects in the Chumar sector, begun work on the road to link Daulat Beg Oldi with Leh, and moved high-performance fighter aircraft to bases proximate to Tibet.
Outside of the Ladakh region, India is concerned about China’s relationship with Pakistan, “particularly at the port of Gwadar, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Operational control of the port has been transferred to China, triggering concerns that it could be used for military purposes to contain India,” SCMP reported.
China also has concerns especially about India’s long-term hosting of the Dalai Lama, who the Communist Party consider a serious threat.
Though there are knots in the relationship to work out, both sides’ have emphasized continual cooperation for better bilateral relations this weekend.
“China and India are important neighbors and two most populous emerging economies. Our relations are of strategic significance,” said Li to Xinhua on Sunday.
Indian guests at a dinner on Sunday said to the Times of India that they found Li to be “eminently likeable, open and engaging.”