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Thursday, Sep 11, 2014

Asia

India and China in wary dance as Xi visits South Asia

AFP | Thursday, Sep 11, 2014

Chinese President Xi Jinping

NEW DELHI - China's president will kick off his first South Asia tour with a visit to Beijing's latest investment in Sri Lanka, a $1.4-billion port city development to include a marina and a Formula One track - all just 250 kilometres (150 miles) from India's coast.

Xi Jinping's trip to the site, next to a major Chinese-funded commercial port, will provide a vivid reminder of Beijing's growing economic clout in India's backyard ahead of his maiden visit to New Delhi next week.

Despite his hardline nationalist reputation, India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi moved quickly to engage with traditional rival China after taking office in May, inviting Xi to India.

But he has also sought to stop India's neighbours falling further into China's embrace, choosing Bhutan and Nepal for his first foreign trips as prime minister and extending an olive branch to arch-rival Pakistan.

That may not worry China too much. Modi's close relationship with Tokyo, on the other hand, is likely to raise alarm bells in Beijing that analysts say he may be able to use to his advantage.

Modi enjoys a particularly warm friendship with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, who welcomed him even as he was shunned by Western powers over claims he failed to stop deadly religious riots in Gujarat, the state he used to run.

Both India and Japan are wary of what many see as Beijing's growing territorial assertiveness, and Washington is eager for them to step up their cooperation by way of counterweight to China.

"China is concerned that we would get closer to Japan and to the US under Modi. They don't want that to happen," said Jayadeva Ranade, president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy in New Delhi.

Ranade said this could give New Delhi valuable leverage in its negotiations with Beijing, after Japan pledged during a recent visit by Modi to double its investment in the country over the next five years.

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