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Xian offers a historic backdrop for Xi-Modi tryst

Tomb no.1, the largest of three pits, where the army of terracotta warriors are buried, at the museum located about 40 km from the ancient capital ofXian. File photo
Suhasini Haidar XIAN (CHINA): 14 May 2015 01:08 IST
Updated: 02 April 2016 23:00 IST

Meeting between leaders today set to rebuild trust.

Before leaving for this ancient city, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Chinese media on Wednesday that his visit would set a “new milestone” for Asian relations.

Mr. Modi left New Delhi for the three-day visit at night, and as he and President Xi Jinping meet on Thursday to set about trying to rebuild trust after a year that has been known more for the India-China flashpoint at Chumar, bad blood over India-U.S. moves on the South China Sea and China-Pakistan infrastructure projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, they will have a historic background to make that start.

>Also read: Limits of summit-style diplomacy

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To begin with, Xian is in Mr. Xi’s native Shaanxi province, where his family hails from, and is a way of returning Mr. Modi’s gesture when he invited the former to visit Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar first. Mr. Modi will be accompanied by Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel.

Xian is also replete with historic significance for the India-China relationship. It is the place where China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified China and constructed the first Great Wall, was buried.

Emperor Qin reigned in China from 221 BC, around the time King Ashoka ruled over most of South Asia and Buddhism spread from India. He planned his own mausoleum, comprising an army of terracotta warriors which were made by more than 7,00,000 workers.

Silk route Xian is the starting point of the ancient Silk Route that stretched from Ch’angan, as it was known (city of eternal peace), to Istanbul, and is Mr. Xi’s most important project at present. The Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Route that make up the “belt and road” initiative that China is preparing to spend billions on is yet to receive India’s approval. In fact, visibly discomforted over the project that will reach out to all India’s neighbours, Mr. Modi has set about with his own neighbourhood initiatives in the Indian Ocean (Mausam project), and land connectivity (through SAARC).

Sources say Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi will discuss more confidence-building measures to ensure “peace and tranquillity” on the border.

Finally, on the Prime Minister’s sightseeing list are the Little Goose and Big Goose Pagodas that became the home of traveller Xuan Zang, who returned to Xian in AD 652 after spending 18 years in India studying Buddhism. Xuan Zang’s legacy is immense in China, and Mr. Modi has taken a keen interest in finding the places where he lived in India, especially an excavation site next to his hometown of Mehsana. “In so many ways Buddhism brought India and China together for thousands of years of peace, so why not now? If there is a ‘Made in China’ [product] in every Indian home, there is a ‘Made in India’ place for Buddhism in every Chinese home,” BJP MP Tarun Vijay, who travelled to China ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit, told The Hindu.

Ancient manuscripts Officials say Mr. Xi will show Mr. Modi some of the ancient manuscripts prepared by six visiting Indian scholars that are kept at the Big Goose Pagoda as well.

Mr. Modi will leave for Beijing late on Thursday evening, ahead of his meetings with Premier Li Keqiang and the signing of several bilateral agreements. The agreements include railway lines, providing trains as well as a rail academy for skill development, a joint venture in outer space and cultural ties. Deals estimated at $10 billion would be signed, Chinese Ambassador Le Yucheng said.

Much will depend, say analysts, on how the meeting between Mr. Xi and Mr. Modi goes, one reason officials remain tight-lipped about the exact outcome of the visit.

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