China’s new leader Xi Jinping has made a pitch for India and China to boost military contact and deepen trust, State media quoted him as saying during his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Durban late on Wednesday evening.
Mr. Xi, who took over as the head of the Communist Party and military last November, told Mr. Singh during their talks on the sidelines of the just concluded BRICS Summit that both countries needed to broaden exchanges between their armed forces.
He also called for both countries to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the border dispute “as soon as possible”, the State-run Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.
Wednesday’s remarks are the first detailed comments by China’s new leader, who took over as President on March 17, on how he plans to take ties with India forward. In an earlier letter to Mr. Singh in January and in remarks to a group of reporters from BRICS countries earlier this month, Mr. Xi had only appeared to stress continuity in ties from the previous government, reiterating a “five-point” proposal put forward last year by his predecessor Hu Jintao and not offering new ideas.
Mr. Xi’s particular emphasis on expanding mutual “military and security trust” underscore concerns in both countries on recently strained defence ties, which were suspended for a year in 2010, after China refused to host the then head of the Army’s Northern Command citing its sensitivities in Kashmir.
More recently, the Chinese side has appeared more eager to boost ties, Indian officials say, indicating its willingness by hosting Indian Army officers from Jammu and Kashmir in recent delegations and also taking a delegation to facilities in Tibet for the first time in many years.
China’s change in posture, analysts note, has coincided with increasing tensions faced by Beijing in the South China Sea and with Japan over East China Sea islands.
After taking over in November, Mr. Xi has rapidly consolidated his control over the influential People’s Liberation Army faster than his predecessor Hu Jintao, already making more than half a dozen visits to military bases. Mr. Xi also served as an aide to an influential general early on his career, and has a network of ties among fellow “princelings” in the army.
Wednesday’s meeting in Durban marked Mr. Xi’s first meeting with top Indian officials after he took over as President.
“China and India should broaden exchanges and cooperation between their armed forces and deepen mutual military and security trust,” he told Mr. Singh, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
On the border issue, he said “China and India should improve and make good use of the mechanism of special representatives to strive for a fair, rational solution framework acceptable to both sides as soon as possible,” Xinhua said.
He also called on both sides to “continue to safeguard peace in their border areas and prevent the issue from affecting bilateral relations.”
Mr. Xi described both countries as having “a similar historic mission to boost their social and economic development,” and said they were in “an important period of strategic opportunities.”
“China, which regards its ties with India as one of the most important bilateral relationship, commits itself to pushing forward the two countries' strategic cooperative partnership,” he said, adding that both sides needed “to maintain high-level reciprocal visits and contacts, make full use of political dialogues and consultations at various levels to strengthen strategic and political communication.”
Xinhua quoted Mr. Singh as saying he hoped India and China “would respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, deepen mutual strategic trust, strengthen coordination and cooperation on international affairs, and safeguard peace and stability in the region and the world at large.”
He also appeared to reassure China about its recent concerns over India’s possible role in the United States’ “pivot” or rebalancing to Asia and strengthening of military alliances in the region, seen by many in China as a move to contain its rise.
Mr. Singh said India “adheres to an independent foreign policy” and “will not be used as a tool to contain China.”
He also sought to assuage Chinese concerns on Tibet. He said India “recognises the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of the Chinese territory and that India will not allow Tibetans to conduct political activities against China in India”, Xinhua quoted him as saying during Wednesday’s meeting.