Nearly 27 years after he made his last trip to India, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi today on his first overseas official visit and will hold talks with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on all contentious issues, including the boundary dispute later this evening.
Li, accompanied by a senior-level delegation comprising government officials and businessmen, arrived around 3 PM and was received by Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed and senior ministry officials including Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
Shortly after his arrival on a three-day visit to India, which is his first overseas stop after assuming office in March, Li will be holding restricted talks with Singh, who will also host a dinner for the visiting dignitary at his official residence which will be attended by members of major political parties, including BJP and SP.
Ahead of his visit, Li had said the fond memories from the visit, which he made 27 years back, also made him choose India for his first overseas visit.
Recalling his visit to India over two-and-a-half decades ago, he said, "What I saw and felt during that trip, visiting the Taj Mahal and prestigious Indian universities, research institutes, and the warmth and hospitality of the Indian people, left a lasting impact on me."
"In a few days' time I will make India the first stop of my first overseas visit as a premier of China. I have made this decision not just because India is an important neighbour and one of the populous countries of the world but also because of the seeds of friendship sown during my own youth," he had said.
Asserting that India thinks "very highly" of Li's gesture of making the country his first overseas stop after assuming charge, Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin said such high-level exchanges are aimed at enhancing trust and understanding as well "exhibit sensitivity" to each other's concerns.
Tomorrow, the two leaders, accompanied by high-level delegations, will hold comprehensive talks on key international, regional and bilateral issues.
"Everything is on the table," Joint Secretary (East Asia) Gautam Bambawale said when asked about the issues to be discussed between the leaders of the two countries, which are witnessing differences on various crucial matters including boundary, waters and on market access under economic ties.
"The two Prime Ministers would talk about these subjects. Since it (incursion) being the recent occurrence (will be discussed)," Bambawale said.
Sources said the issue of breach of status quo in Ladakh region will be discussed and India will press that the Special Representatives of India and China, who are scheduled to meet in next few months, take it up in detail to avoid such occurrences in future.
India has been pressing for clarification and confirmation on Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border areas pending the final settlement.
Noting that in the agreements worked out in 1993 and 1996 there were clarifications on the differing perceptions on LAC and exchanges on it, the sources said somehow in later years, this went off the table from the Chinese side, probably because there was a sense that it may be taken as a default boundary.
"There is a need to revive this particular subject to prevent incidents of this nature. Clarifications we really seek are imperative and are required. (Otherwise) This (Depsang incursion) kind of incidents could recur. This is something we would certainly flag," the sources said.
Asked if there was any progress made on the Chinese proposal on Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, to which India has also submitted a counter proposal, Bambawale said, these proposals were currently being discussed but refused to divulge further details.
On the economic front, Bambawale said India will continue to press for access to the Chinese market.
In 2012, bilateral trade was USD 66 billion, a decline over the USD 74 billion in 2011. The two countries have set a target of USD 100 billion by 2015 for bilateral trade.
India faces a growing trade deficit vis-a-vis China. By end of 2011, India's trade deficit was USD 27 billion. According to Chinese trade figures released in January 2013, the figure expanded to USD 29 billion by 2012.
Apart from trade, India is also the largest market for project exports from China. As per Chinese figures, cumulative Chinese investments into India till December 2011 stood at USD 575.70 million while Indian investments into China were USD 441.70 million.
Another issue which will be raised by India is expected to be its concern over the Chinese proposal to construct three more dams across the Brahmaputra river which originates in Tibet.
India has been pressing China to have either a water commission or an inter-governmental dialogue to deal with water issues as under the current Expert Level Mechanism (ELM), the two countries only share hydrological information.
On his second-leg of journey to Mumbai, officials said Li will attend a meeting with business leaders and visit Tata Consultancy Services facility.
The Chinese Premier will also meet family members of late Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, an Indian physician dispatched to China to provide medical assistance during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938.