The simultaneous visit of Indian, Russian and Mongolian PMs underscores Beijing’s efforts to check U.S. influence

The rare occurrence of simultaneous visits to China by three Prime Ministers — of India, Russia and Mongolia — on the same day has underlined the new leadership’s emphasis on bolstering ties with neighbours amid several disputes, Chinese officials and state media said on Wednesday.

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday, the leaders of China’s neighbours to the north — Russia and Mongolia — also began their visits.

“The three visits show that the new government attaches importance to relationships with neighbouring countries,” said Luo Zhaohui, Director-General of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department. “In China, we say that if the host is gracious, there will be frequent visits by guests,” Mr. Luo told journalists at a briefing after Dr. Singh’s talks with his counterpart.

The concurrent visits were seen by Chinese state media and analysts as emphasising a renewed focus on the periphery amid strains over territorial disputes and Chinese anxieties over the United States “pivot” or strengthening of alliances in Asia.

The Global Times, a tabloid published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper known for its hardline views, said the visits “underline an emphasis on peripheral diplomacy in overall diplomatic strategy against the backdrop of the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific.”

Su Hao, a strategic affairs expert at the China Foreign Affairs University, said the pivot had put “great pressure on China and triggered some problems in its neighbouring region.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced a slew of energy deals, including an agreement to supply an additional 10 million tons of crude oil each year. This would amount to 100 million tons in the next 10 years, and would be worth $85 billion, he said.

“Both Russia and China feel pressure from the U.S. and the consolidation of China-Russia relations will contain the U.S.’ pivot to Asia,” Mr. Su said.

India, on the other hand, was “an independent power and the strengthening of Sino-Indian relations will help reduce the pressure from the U.S., and contain Washington’s pivot,” he suggested.

A separate commentary published by The Global Times said “an enemy on the west gate as powerful as India would jeopardise [China’s] ambitions.”

“India can act as a balancing force, and its choice of flexibility will break the balance and ensure its interests,” the commentary said, adding “China should welcome and encourage an India pursuing strategic autonomy.”