NEW DELHI: The leaders of India and China played down their recent border dispute and other tensions Monday, pledging to work together for regional stability and the economic growth of the world’s two most populous nations.
The Asian giants have vied in recent years for regional influence and access to oil needed to feed their growing economies.
Li Keqiang’s trip to India, his first visit abroad since becoming premier, was part of an outreach mission by the new Chinese leadership to large emerging economies aimed at counter-balancing Beijing’s fraught ties with the United States.
In that vein, Li — and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — sought Monday to focus on the opportunities for cooperation between their two nations.
“Both the prime minister and I believe that there are far more shared interests between China and India than the differences we have,”Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at a joint press conference.
“Without the common development of China and India, Asia won’t become strong and the world won’t become a better place,” he said.
The summit was far heavier on symbolism than substance. The two sides signed eight minor agreements. But both leaders insisted the symbolism was important.
“I shared with Premier Li my view that the rise of China and India is good for the world and that the world has enough space to accommodate the growth aspirations of both our peoples. To make this a reality, it is important to build understanding between our two peoples,” Singh said.
“We agreed that both sides must work to strengthen greater trust and confidence, which, in turn, will permit much larger cooperation,” he added.
But the two nations have deep disputes, including China’s unwavering support of Indian rival Pakistan and the two nations’ competition for energy sources in the South China Sea. Even their $61.5 billion in trade last year was a source of tension, because it was heavily skewed in favor of China.
Their most volatile dispute remains their border disagreement, which flared up last month, just weeks before Li’s planned visit.
India said Chinese troops crossed the defacto border on April 15 and pitched camp in the Depsang Valley in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir. New Delhi responded with diplomatic protests and then moved its soldiers just 300 meters (yards) from the Chinese position.
The two sides negotiated a peaceful end to the standoff three weeks later by withdrawing troops to their original positions in the Ladakh area.
The leaders said they both agreed that preserving peace along the borders was crucial to maintaining growth and asked mediators from both countries to work toward a framework for reaching a settlement.
India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory in the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas, while China claims around 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The two sides have held 15 rounds of fruitless border talks over the past decade.