India's Modi tells China to 'reconsider' approach

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 15, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 15, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - Visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his Chinese counterpart on Friday that Beijing needs to "reconsider its approach" to relations between the Asian giants, as the Hindu nationalist leader departed from the usual diplomatic pleasantries.

Modi, who despite his hardline reputation has moved to engage with Beijing since his election last year, made the remarks after being welcomed to the Great Hall of the People by Premier Li Keqiang.

"I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership," Modi said, adding that he "suggested that China should take a strategic and long term view of our relations".

His comments stood out from the usual public declarations by diplomatic visitors to Beijing, who normally stick to uninterrupted pledges of friendship and good relations.

The world's two most populous nations are jockeying for regional influence in Asia and their relationship is coloured by a brief but bloody 1962 border war over the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which Beijing claims as South Tibet.

Another bone of contention is what Beijing sees as Delhi's support of the Dalai Lama - a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whom China considers a separatist - and the Tibetan Government in exile, both based in India.

"Our relationship has been complex in recent decades," Modi said, adding there were issues that "trouble smooth development of our relations".

"But, we have a historic responsibility to turn this relationship into a source of strength for each other and a force of good for the world," he said, adding that the Chinese leadership had been "responsive" in the meetings.

"We are committed to set a new direction between the two largest Asian countries," he said.

'More common interests than differences'

Modi began his three-day visit on Thursday in Xian, the capital of Chinese President Xi Jinping's home province Shaanxi, where he was hosted by the head of state. This was the first time Xi had welcomed a foreign leader to his hometown, Chinese media reported.

"We do not deny that there are some disagreements between us, but we have far more common interests than differences," Premier Li said in a speech after Friday's meeting.

"We agree that we need to keep up the momentum on the special representatives' talks on the boundary question and seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution."

The two countries signed 24 documents, including agreements to cooperate in fields ranging from aerospace and railways to tourism and education, although no details were given, as well as open consulates in Chennai and Chengdu.

But relations remain delicate, as demonstrated by the mixed rhetoric, and China has become increasingly assertive in territorial disputes in recent years.

"The bilateral relationship is still vulnerable to many sensitive issues," said an editorial in the Global Times, affiliated with the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily. "Lack of mutual trust still disturbs both sides."

China is India's biggest trading partner with two-way commerce totalling US$71 billion (S$93.94 billion) in 2014. But India's trade deficit with China has soared from just US$1 billion in 2001-02 to more than US$38 billion last year, Indian figures show.

The two countries also projected a united front on climate change with a rare joint statement that asked rich countries to step up efforts to reduce global carbon emissions.

The statement, issued by the two largest developing nations during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, asked wealthy countries to provide finance, technology and other necessary support to emerging countries to help reduce their own emissions. “The two sides urged the developed countries to raise their pre-2020 emission reduction targets and honour their commitment to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries,” the statement said.

While both countries stopped short of making any commitments, they said they would submit their respective plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions well before crucial global climate talks are held in Paris later this year.

India, which is the world’s No 3 emitter of greenhouse gases, has been under pressure to make commitments after the top two emitters – China and the United States – agreed to new limits on carbon emissions starting in 2025.

Modi has signalled he will not bow to foreign pressure and will instead focus on increased use of clean energy to fight the adverse effects of climate change. He wants to quintuple India’s renewable energy capacity by 2022.

India cannot commit to emissions cuts as it still needs to industrialise and lift millions of people out of poverty, the government says.

Both the countries will continue to work together in areas such as clean energy technologies, energy conservation and renewable energy, the joint statement said. “China and India are undertaking ambitious actions domestically on combating climate change ... despite the enormous scale of their challenges in terms of social and economic development and poverty eradication,” they said.