Modi Calls on China to Rethink Stances That Strain Ties to India


Premier Li Keqiang of China, left, welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday.

Rolex Dela Pena/European Pressphoto Agency

HONG KONG — India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, told China’s leaders on Friday that it was up to them to rethink policies that he said had hindered cooperation between the two Asian giants.

Mr. Modi made the comments to reporters in Beijing after meeting with Premier Li Keqiang and unveiling 24 agreements that both men said would help improve relations. But Mr. Modi added a proviso: that the Chinese government should consider India’s grievances.

“We covered all issues, including those that trouble smooth development of our relations,” Mr. Modi said of his talks with Mr. Li and, on Thursday, with China’s pre-eminent leader, President Xi Jinping.

The sources of contention between the two countries have included long-running border disputes, a heavy trade imbalance in China’s favor and India’s wariness toward China’s partnership with Pakistan, India’s rival.

“I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realizing full potential of our partnership,” Mr. Modi said in a room at the Great Hall of the People, the cavernous home of China’s national legislature, in remarks broadcast live by Indian television stations. He said, “I suggested that China should take a strategic and long-term view of our relations.”

He added, “I found the Chinese leadership responsive.”

Mr. Modi’s caveat departed from the mild, oblique language that most Asian leaders stick to in public after meeting with leaders in Beijing, and it offered a glimpse of the difficult balance sought by Mr. Modi.

He has courted Chinese business and investment to shore up India’s economy, and stressed that he wants to deepen ties. Indian officials said there had been progress on several nagging issues, including confidence-building protocols at the disputed border between the two countries, and a high-level task force aimed at expanding trade.

But Mr. Modi has also promoted himself as a vigorous defender of Indian security interests and international standing.

“For him to say we hope the Chinese will reconsider their approach — it’s very politely put, and he added that he saw sensitivity to India’s concerns,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Wire, an online Indian news site. “But that’s quite a strong way to put it.”

For now, both governments appear committed to containing their disagreements and building stronger economic ties. China’s ambassador to New Delhi, Le Yucheng, had said that the deals signed during Mr. Modi’s visit to China could be worth $10 billion. Mr. Li, the Chinese premier, did not wade deeply into any controversies in his comments to reporters, and he praised Mr. Modi’s efforts to reinvigorate the Indian economy and to improve relations with China.

“For the true arrival of the Asian century, it must be seen whether China and India, these two most populous countries, will be able to overcome the difficulties facing us and steadily achieve the goal of modernization so people can live well,” Mr. Li said as Mr. Modi listened. “We both agree that political confidence between our two countries should be strengthened.”

Mr. Modi also stressed that India wanted closer ties with China, including more investment from China, greater access to its markets and a shared commitment to ensure that their disagreements remain in check. “We are committed to set a new direction between the two largest Asian countries,” he said. “This is one of our most important strategic partnerships.”

India and China both remain sensitive to any perceived challenges to territorial claims and affronts to national pride. Before Mr. Modi’s visit, Indian news outlets seized on a commentary in a popular Chinese tabloid, Global Times, that accused Mr. Modi of “playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues.” On Thursday, Indian media showed an image of a map used in a Chinese news program that showed India without its claimed territories of Jammu and Kashmir and of Arunachal Pradesh.

Despite the warm official welcome for Mr. Modi, many Chinese also remain wary and disdainful of India.

Mr. Modi “has deliberately looked for problems so that during negotiations with Chinese leaders he has more chips to bargain with,” Hu Zhiyong, the author of the Global Times commentary, said in a phone interview from Boston, where he is a visiting scholar. “We can’t have any hopes or expectations that Modi will make even the slightest concessions in negotiations with Chinese leaders on political and security matters.”

India has remained reticent on one of Mr. Xi’s central initiatives, an ambitious network of roads, railways and ports designed to link China to Asia and Europe, known as “One Belt, One Road.” Briefing reporters in Beijing on Friday, India’s foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, called the plan “a Chinese initiative,” and said Beijing had never approached the Indian leadership about participating in it.

“We are open to discussing this with the Chinese whenever they want to,” he said.

Mr. Jaishankar indicated that the two governments had made some progress on the long-running border dispute between the two countries, saying they had agreed to increase the number of “border personnel meeting points” — currently there are four of them — and to hold more frequent meetings there. He also said the two sides had agreed to introduce a hotline between the military commands of the two countries.

The two dozen agreements signed as Mr. Modi and Mr. Li looked on mostly involved strengthening government cooperation, including in railways, mining and tourism. But Mr. Jaishankar said commercial agreements would be unveiled in Shanghai on Saturday, when Mr. Modi will attend a business forum there. “We can see more visible enthusiasm among Chinese businesses to invest in India,” Mr. Jaishankar said.

Mr. Modi also thanked the Chinese government for deciding to open a route through Chinese territory for Hindu pilgrims who have long sought an easier passage to Mount Kailash, where the Hindu god Shiva is believed to reside. The new route can be traveled by vehicle and will open in the summer, replacing the existing, longer routes through Nepal and the Indian region of Uttarakhand.

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