April 28, 2018 / 1:21 AM / 5 months ago

India's Modi to take boat ride with Xi on final day of China trip

WUHAN, China, April 28 (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take an hour-long boat ride with his host Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday, the final day of an ice-breaking trip both are hoping will lead to better ties after a year of strains.

Modi is spending only about 24 hours in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, just months after a dispute over a stretch of their high-altitude Himalayan border rekindled fears of war between the Asian nations.

Billed by both sides as an informal meeting rather than a summit, with none of the pomp and ceremony of a state visit such as 21-gun salutes, the two men held talks on Friday that lasted far longer than expected.

Modi will take a walk around a guesthouse with Xi on Saturday, then an hour-long boat trip on a lake followed by lunch, before the meeting ends, according to the Indian Foreign Ministry.

Both countries are expected to brief reporters at the end.

Chinese state media has praised the tone of the trip so far.

The overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said in a front page commentary on Saturday “two great countries ought to have great cooperation”, and showed a large picture of the two leaders shaking hands.

“There is reason to believe that this Wuhan meeting will increase mutual trust, manage and control disputes, deepen cooperation and lead to a new phase in China-India relations,” it said.

“It is quite clear that strategic agreement between the two countries far exceeds the specific differences, and the need for cooperation far exceeds local friction,” it said.

Despite the rhetoric, which on Friday included Modi inviting Xi to India for a similar informal summit next year, the nations’ differences are significant.

As well as disputes over stretches of a 3,500 km (2,200 miles) border, they are bumping up against each other in the Indian Ocean and squabbling over Xi’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

India signalled as recently as Tuesday its opposition to the grand trade and transport plan because one of its branches runs through Pakistani-administered Kashmir, which India claims.

India has long been suspicious of China’s traditionally close ties with Pakistan.

For its part, China has been concerned about U.S. efforts to draw India into a maritime “quad” of democracies, including Japan and Australia.

China is also suspicious of India’s hosting of the Dalai Lama and other exiled Tibetans. (Writing by Ben Blanchard Editing by Paul Tait)

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