Beijing – China’s President Xi Jinping will make his first state visit to rival Asian giant India next week, officials said Tuesday, as Beijing sought to allay fears it is encircling its neighbour.
The announcement came just a week after India’s recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to take ties to a “new level” with Japan, a move seen as an attempt to shore up regional alliances to counter China’s increasing might.
Xi’s four-nation trip begins this Thursday in the central Asian state of Tajikistan, before going on to the South Asian island states of the Maldives and Sri Lanka, culminating in India, the Chinese foreign ministry said on its website.
It did not give specific dates but said the tour would finish on September 19.
Ties between India and China have long been clouded by suspicion over disputed territory in the Himalayas, which saw a brief border war in 1962.
Beijing has also moved to establish port facilities elsewhere in South Asia, in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, raising fears of encirclement among some Indians.
Chinese assistant foreign minister Liu Jianchao dismissed such fears at a press briefing on Tuesday, saying: “China has not and will not encircle India.”
Chinese troops last month advanced into disputed territory claimed by India, official sources said, raising tensions after a similar incident the previous year.
But Liu added that “both sides hope they will find acceptable solutions as soon as possible” to the border issue, without giving details.
Also on Tuesday, Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval met Xi in Beijing, saying that he carried a letter from Modi, and extended an invitation to the prime minister’s home town.
“When it was decided you will be visiting India, Prime Minister Modi was extremely keen that you come to his home town of Vadnagar,” Doval added.
China is India’s biggest trading partner, with two-way commerce totalling close to $70 billion. But India’s trade deficit with China has soared to more than $40 billion from just $1 billion in 2001-02, Indian figures show.
Beijing sent Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Delhi in June soon after right-wing Modi’s landslide election victory, delivering a message that India and China were “natural partners”.
After meeting Xi at a summit of the BRICS emerging economic powers in Brazil in July, Modi called for increased Chinese investment in India, where economic growth has slowed in recent years.