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Modi balm for China

New Delhi, June 30: Narendra Modi’s government today for the first time publicly reassured Beijing that its overtures to Tokyo are not aimed at containing China, but accepted the “divergences” and competition that the UPA administration mostly left unsaid.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari told China’s top think-tank that the new Indian government would continue with the same foreign policy attitude to Beijing as its predecessor under Manmohan Singh, credited with riding multiple challenges to forge a stable neighbourly partnership.

“We do not subscribe to alliance-building nor do we believe in the logic of containment,” Ansari told the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

“We firmly believe that both India and China are too big to be contained. Building peaceful and cooperative relationships in our neighbourhood is an intrinsic element of our foreign policy.”

Ansari is the senior-most Indian government representative to visit China after Modi was sworn in on May 26. Modi has repeatedly indicated he wants to strengthen ties with both Japan and China.

But juggling India’s ties with Japan and China — a task Manmohan Singh managed masterfully — is proving one of Modi’s earliest foreign policy challenges.

Modi’s decision to visit Japan in early July — it’s now been put off till the end of the budget session in mid-August — had triggered concerns in China, locked in a territorial confrontation with Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea both claim.

China, top Indian and Chinese officials confirmed to The Telegraph, had requested New Delhi for a high profile visit before Modi’s visit to Tokyo.

Diplomatic protocol demands that Chinese President Xi Jinping visit India before Modi makes the trip to Beijing — because Manmohan Singh visited China last October and neither Xi nor Chinese premier Li Keqiang, who visited India in May 2013, has come here since.

Unable to demand that Modi visit China before a year-end visit by Xi that is being planned, Beijing requested a symbolically loaded visit that would also yield concrete deals for the two nations. The Vice-President ranks just behind the President and the Prime Minister in diplomatic protocol. Ansari has met both Xi and Li on his visit.

On Ansari’s two-day visit that began yesterday, India and China inked a pact that will allow Beijing to set up four industrial parks — tentatively proposed in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

But the juggle between East Asia’s two biggest powers also needs India to remain sensitive to Japan. Today, a day after the pact over industrial parks was signed with China, Amitabh Kant, the secretary at the department of industrial policy and promotion, said India was willing to “hand-hold” 10,000 Japanese companies willing to invest here.

And Ansari broke from tradition to accept publicly what both India and China know and recognise but rarely speak of publicly — the hard reality that the neighbours hold differences in their neighbourhood and border, and are economic competitors.

“In the peripheries that we share in Central Asia, West Asia, South East Asia and the maritime space from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific, there are both convergences and divergences between India and China,” Ansari said.

“The challenge here is to our ability to work together, handle differences and compete and cooperate at the same time.”