China’s President Xi Jinping has expressed his desire to visit India later this year on what would be his first trip to the country after taking over last year.
The proposed visit is being framed by officials as signalling Beijing’s intent to take ties forward with the new dispensation in New Delhi that will be in place after the Lok Sabha elections. Chinese officials conveyed the desire during last month’s 17th round of boundary talks in New Delhi, sources familiar with the initial discussions said.
The details of the visit had not been fully finalised, and would be done so only after the Lok Sabha elections, the sources said.
Beijing, for its part, has made clear it is keen to establish a good rapport and take ties forward with the new government that comes to power, regardless of the outcome of the elections.
As is the custom with visits to India by the top leadership, Mr. Xi is also expected to travel to Pakistan. It is understood that he is also considering a visit to Sri Lanka in what would be the highest profile visit by a top Chinese leader to the country in many years.
The visit of Mr. Xi, who travelled to India many years earlier as a provincial leader, would be the most significant by any Chinese leader to India in many years.
Since taking over as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and head of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in November 2012, Mr. Xi has surprised observers with the speed with which he has accumulated power.
He has emerged as the most powerful leader since former Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping, exerting direct influence over foreign policy, security issues and the economy in a way his predecessor Hu Jintao could not.
While Mr. Hu delegated economic power to the former Premier, Wen Jiabao, and was seen as having limited say over the PLA with no military background, Mr. Xi has centralised power by creating a National Security Commission and a central group for economic policy under his direct control.
While Chinese officials have acknowledged there is now some degree of comfort between Beijing and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments following engagement over two terms, officials here also have warm recollections of their dealings with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a leader held in high regard here.
In sharp contrast to the belated outreach from Washington, Beijing has carefully courted BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, hosting him as Gujarat Chief Minister in 2011.
“If we look back at history, in 2003 the NDA Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee, paid a very successful visit to China and broke the ice between the two countries in some ways,” said Lan Jianxue, a South Asia scholar at the China Institute of International Studies. “China is already acquainted with Mr. Modi. Whether the next government is NDA or UPA or somebody else, I don’t think it will have a huge impact because the bilateral relationship is interest-oriented, not party-oriented.”