Chinese President Xi Jinping will make his first visit to India as head of state on a regional visit starting this week which will also take in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Tajikistan, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Xi will begin his trip in Tajikistan where he will attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on Thursday and Friday, the ministry said.
China, Russia and four Central Asian nations — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — formed the group in 2001 as a regional security bloc to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighbouring Afghanistan.
After that Xi will travel to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India, on a visit which ends on Sept. 19, the ministry said, without giving exact dates for when he will be in each country.
The ministry provided no further details, though over the weekend it said that Xi had postponed a trip to Pakistan which had originally been part of his tour due to ongoing unrest in the country.
From economic parity in 1980, China’s growth has outstripped India’s fourfold and Beijing has sought to recycle some of its vast export surpluses into foreign investments in resources and infrastructure in South Asia to feed its industrial machine.
That rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that China is creating a “string of pearls” that surrounds India and threatens its security.
While China and India have close economic and historical links, there is deep suspicion too, fuelled in part by a festering border dispute.
Asian great-power diplomacy has stirred to life since the rise to power of Indian nationalist Narendra Modi, who announced his intent to play an active role on the world stage by inviting regional leaders to his inauguration in May.
Although Modi seeks pragmatic economic engagement with China, in Tokyo earlier this month he criticised countries with an “expansionist” mindset, a coded jibe against Beijing’s assertive behaviour in Southeast Asia.
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began visits to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.