China, India strengthen relations

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they take a boat ride on the East Lake in Wuhan, China, April 28, 2018. India's Press Information Bureau/Handout via REUTERS

WUHAN, China – The leaders of China and India agreed to open a new chapter in their relation­ship on Saturday after an informal summit, just months after a dispute over a stretch of their high-altitude Himalayan border rekindled fears of war.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent around 24 hours in the central Chinese city of Wu­han for meetings with President Xi Jinping, an ice-breaking trip both hoped would allow candour and nurture trust.

Billed as an informal get-together rather than a summit, the two men held talks on Friday that lasted far longer than expected, and on Saturday chatted over tea on a boat trip round a scenic lake.

“President Xi stressed that the issues between China and India are of a limited, temporary nature but the relationship between the two countries is extensive and ongoing,” Chinese Vice Foreign Min­ister Kong Xuanyou told reporters in Wuhan.

Their differences are significant: as well as dis­putes over stretches of a 3500km border — the two fought a brief border war in 1962 — the Asian giants have squabbled over Mr Xi’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

India signalled as recently as Tues­day its opposition to the grand trade and transport plan because one of its branches runs through Pakistani-administered Kashmir, which India claims.

Mr Xi and Mr Modi agreed their prob­lems would be resolved with time.

China’s Foreign Ministry, in a sepa­rate statement, cited Mr Xi as telling Mr Modi their nations were major driv­ers of world economic growth and a good relationship would be positive for global stability.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said both leaders had agreed they could handle their differences peacefully.

“On the issue of the India-China boundary question, the two leaders endorsed the work of the special repre­sentatives in their efforts to find a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement,” he said.

“And the two leaders also underscored that in the meantime it is important to maintain peace and tranquillity in all areas of the India-China border re­gion,” Mr Gokhale said.

Mr Kong said Mr Modi and Mr Xi did not discuss last summer’s border flare-up, although they agreed to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement to the boundary problem.

“The biggest takeaway was that we have to increase mutual trust,” he said. “The reason that we had this dispute was because we were both mistrustful of each other.”

Chinese state media praised the tone of the trip.