Forteleza, Brazil: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping pledged to resolve a border dispute that has hampered economic ties between the world’s most populous countries, an Indian official said.

And in a significant first, Xi invited India to attend Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit even as Modi and Xi held wide-ranging talks on bilateral ties and need for the two Asian giants to work together in international fora.

The meeting—a first between the two leaders—was scheduled for 40 minutes but it went on for 80 minutes as it was a free-wheeling discussion without any constraints. During the talks, Xi said China welcomes India to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Modi urged more Chinese investment in infrastructure and called to rectify a trade imbalance with its second-biggest commercial partner. India’s $34 billion trade deficit with China is its largest with any country, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

India and China are among the Brics nations attending a summit in Brazil.

“There was need to find a solution to the border question, and maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border was essential even while India and China work to resolve this issue," Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry, told reporters after the meeting.

China has sought to boost ties with India as relations with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines have deteriorated over territorial disputes. India and China, home to more than a third of the world’s population, have seen sporadic border clashes over the past five decades with the latest one leading to a three-week standoff last year.

Modi told Xi that an amicable resolution to the countries’ border disputes would set an example for the world on how to peacefully resolve conflicts. Xi called for negotiated solutions to the border dispute with India at an early date, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

APEC invitation for Modi

The bank is a Chinese idea aired in last October to fund projects in Asia and China has reportedly said it would likely be the largest shareholder in the bank.

The invitation for the summit of the 21-nation APEC grouping, established in 1989, came in the context of Modi and Xi discussing the need for the two countries to work together in international platforms such as the Brics.

“We think this is a significant gesture, this is an important invitation that has been extended to India, and this will be given very serious due consideration," said Akbaruddin. “President Xi also mentioned that China is hosting an APEC meeting in November this year. He said meeting is focused on ‘partnership and connectivity’. He (Xi) invited the prime minister to attend this important APEC meeting that China is hosting...we did not get the dates but I think that is in November," Akbaruddin added.

Pressed further on whether India would attend the APEC summit, he said, “It is normal in diplomatic parlance when invitations are immediately issued that we consider these because we need to check what the dates are, what will be the priorities during that. As you are aware, November is a very busy month—there is the G20 summit, there is the SAARC summit."

“And of course this is an important invitation because this is the first time India has been invited to an APEC meeting. So, obviously we take this as a very serious and important invitation. However, no dates were mentioned. This is not for the president and prime minister of India to work these out. These will be worked out by diplomatic channels, and we will work on these," he said.

Trade Deficit and Border Conflicts

“References were made to industrial parks and the need to address the trade deficit," Akbaruddin said. On his part, President Xi did acknowledge, for the trade ties to be sustainable, there must be a more balanced approach to trade.

Modi in his election campaign this year promised to take a harder line on protecting India’s borders with China than his predecessor as the two nations aim to end troop clashes that have hobbled their relationship since the 1962 war. Modi warned China to drop its territorial mindset in February and said his country’s weakness had encouraged China’s army to enter Indian territory last year.

Almost three quarters of Indians say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbours will lead to military conflict, with 9% saying they weren’t concerned at all, according a survey published by Pew Research Center on Monday. Pew spoke to 2,464 Indians between April and May and the survey has a 3.1% margin of error.

Some 31% of Indians have a favourable view of China, down four percentage points from last year, and less than a quarter said China’s growing economy was a good thing, the survey found. By comparison, 55% of Indians had a favourable view of the US and 39% had a favourable view of Russia, the survey showed.

‘Buried Treasure’

India accuses China of occupying 38,000 sq.km. of territory in Jammu and Kashmir, while the government in Beijing lays claim to 90,000 sq.km. of land in Arunachal Pradesh.

Two Chinese helicopters crossed into Indian airspace twice in the past three months, Defense Minister Arun Jaitley said in a written reply to parliament today. Incursions occur due to a differing perception of where the border lies, he wrote.

Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China is prepared for a final settlement of the border issue and will invest more in Indian high-speed train networks and manufacturing if regulatory hurdles were eased.

“The countries agreed to relax visa rules to boost tourism during his visit. China-India cooperation is like a massive buried treasure waiting to be discovered," Wang said on 10 June. “The potential is massive."

President Xi is scheduled to visit India in September. The Chinese foreign minister visited India last month, while India’s vice president and army chief have travelled to China since May. Bloomberg & PTI

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