New Delhi: India and China were engaged in an exchange of words on Saturday over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh state, a region that China claims as part of its territory.
The exchange, though it has happened in the past, is noteworthy as it comes after efforts to thaw ties and rebuild trust between Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping in Wuhan last year. The Wuhan meeting was aimed at stabilising relations rocked by a 73-day-long tense military standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in Bhutan’s Doklam plateau.
Early on Saturday, China's foreign ministry issued a warning on Modi's visit, saying it "resolutely opposes" activities of Indian leaders in the region.
Modi is on a three-day visit to India’s eastern and northeastern states of West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura ahead of national elections due in April-May.
“China urges the Indian side to proceed from the overall situation of bilateral relations, respect China's interests and concerns, cherish the momentum of improving relations between the two countries, and refrain from any actions that intensify disputes and complicate the border issue," the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement, quoted by news reports.
The Indian foreign ministry on its part said "the State of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India."
“Indian leaders visit Arunachal Pradesh from time to time, as they visit other parts of India. This consistent position has been conveyed to the Chinese side on several occasions," foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement.
India-China ties have remained mired in mutual suspicion mainly due to an unsettled border, a legacy of their 1962 war that went badly for India. China’s ties with Pakistan is another factor impeding trust between China and India. Beijing, on its part, looks suspiciously as India’s growing ties with the US and it’s participation in informal groupings like the “Quad" — a loose arrangement between the US, Australia, Japan and India to ensure peace and stability in Indo-Pacific region. China views the “Quad" as a containment policy drawn by the US against it.
Modi and Xi met met at least four times last year, including at Wuhan, in a bid to bring ties back on a stable footing after the standoff in Doklam in 2017. Improving trade ties and strategic trust have been major aims of the meetings.