World

China, India hold 1st summit since last year's Bhutan friction

Chinese President Xi Jinping greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday at the provincial museum in the city of Wuhan at the start of two days of talks between the heads of the world's two most populous nations, who have had squabbles in recent years.

The 2 most populous countries in the world, both nuclear powers, could strengthen economic ties

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan on Friday. There are no major breakthroughs predicted for the summit, but the two countries will seek to better coexist as Asia's superpowers. (Indian Ministry of External Affairs/AP)

The leaders of India and China met at a lakeside city in central China on Friday amid tensions along their contested border and a rivalry for influence among their smaller neighbours that could determine dominance in Asia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday at the provincial museum in the city of Wuhan at the start of two days of talks between the heads of the world's two most populous nations.

Indian media outlets, quoting unidentified top officials, reported the leaders would begin their interactions with one-on-one talks, followed by further discussions and a dinner lakeside at a resort that had been a favourite of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

They will continue talks on Saturday with a walk along the lake, a boat ride and lunch together.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar tweeted that the leaders would "review the developments in our bilateral relations from a strategic and long-term perspective."

China-India relations date back centuries but in recent decades have been characterized by competition for leadership in Asia.

The countries fought a border war in 1962 and last year engaged in a 10-week standoff in the neighbouring state of Bhutan. New Delhi has also been alarmed by China's moves to build strategic and economic ties with Indian Ocean nations including Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India's longtime rival Pakistan.

Territorial claims

China for its part resents India's hosting of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and its control of territory Beijing says belongs to it.

China claims some 90,000 square kilometres of territory in India's northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometres of its territory on the Aksai Chin Plateau in the western Himalayas. Officials have met at least 20 times to discuss the competing border claims without making significant progress.

Following the most protracted standoff in years, India last year agreed to pull back troops from the disputed Doklam Plateau high in the Himalayas, where Chinese troops had started constructing a road.

Despite such differences, Modi hopes China can help drive Indian economic growth ahead of national elections next year. However, his administration has been reluctant to engage with Beijing's "Belt and Road" initiative linking its economies to those of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe through massive loans and investments.

Given the difficult state of relations, the informal summit should be seen as a conscientious attempt to steer ties in a new direction, said Wang Lian, a professor at elite Peking University's School of International Relations.

"This meticulously planned meeting will offer the leaders more time to discuss current issues and the future blueprint for bilateral relations," Wang said.

Modi will be travelling to China again in June for a summit of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization dominated by Beijing and Moscow.

Along with China, Russia and India, that group includes the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan as well as Pakistan.