India, China vow cooperation as troops face off

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian and Chinese troops faced off along their Himalayan border on Thursday as the countries' leaders held a rare meeting in New Delhi, promising to boost economic cooperation and substantially increase Chinese investment in India's infrastructure.

The long-festering border dispute is a stark reminder of the complicated relationship between the two Asian giants as they try to increase trade and investment.

After talks that lasted more than two hours, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said peace and stability along the border was necessary for economic growth and development in the region.

"Peace and tranquility in the border region constitutes an essential foundation for mutual trust and confidence for realizing the full potential of our relationship," Modi told a news conference, with Xi by his side.

Suspicions between the two countries — which between them have 2.6 billion people — date from a monthlong border war in 1962 that left about 2,000 soldiers dead. That conflict ended in a standoff with each side accusing the other of occupying its territory.

This week, Indian officials said Chinese soldiers had entered Indian territory in the Ladakh region in Indian-held Kashmir and appeared to be building a road in the region.

The lack of a clearly demarcated boundary in the barren Himalayan region has in the past led to incidents in which New Delhi said Chinese troops crossed into its land, while Beijing said Indian troops were occupying Chinese territory.

While analysts believe there is little danger of a conventional war breaking out between the two countries, the frequent border skirmishes make it difficult to achieve a lasting resolution. The two sides have held several rounds of talks on their boundary dispute, but have made little progress.

China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of land in India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, while India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas.

Another cause for bitterness is China's deep ties with Pakistan, India's archrival.

Although the border dispute appeared to cast a shadow over the talks, the two sides also clinched several agreements. They decided to begin discussions on civil nuclear energy and signed a five-year economic and trade development plan. They also agreed to set up two Chinese industrial parks in India, and China promised to invest $20 billion in Indian infrastructure over the next five years.

"We can bring prosperity to Asia, and we can create opportunities for the world," Xi said of the growing relationship between the two countries.

In a significant concession, China agreed to allow the opening of a new, more accessible route to Kailash Mansarover, a Hindu pilgrimage site located in the high Himalayas.

The two leaders also discussed a China-led proposal to develop an economic corridor that would link Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar.

Modi called his talks with Xi a "historic opportunity" and said "we can start a new era in our relations."

Xi is the first Chinese president to visit India in eight years. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang made India his first overseas visit shortly after taking office last year.

Trade between the countries totaled more than $70 billion in 2013. But India's trade deficit with China is about $40 billion and there are fears it could grow if China uses India to sell cheap manufactured goods in the future. The countries have set a trade target of $100 billion by 2015, but both sides still need to iron out wrinkles in their trade and tax policies to help achieve that goal.

During the talks, Modi raised India's concerns about the worsening trade imbalance and sought Xi's help in improving market access and investment opportunities for Indian companies in China.

Security was tight near the palatial building in central Delhi where the talks were held, with hundreds of police posted around the venue. But in a major embarrassment to the Delhi police, dozens of Tibetan protesters, mostly women, managed to stage a noisy protest outside the building after the two leaders began their meeting.

The protesters shouted "China: Hands off Tibet!" as police grappled with them, shoving them into buses.

Tibetan protests against China are common in India, and often increase during visits by Chinese leaders. The presence in India of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, remains a major irritant for China. India has allowed the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in the 1950s following a failed uprising in Tibet, to set up a government in exile in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala.

The Dalai Lama said Thursday that China could learn from India on how different ethnic and religious groups can live in harmony.