MAMALLAPURAM, India (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a time of tensions over Beijing’s support for Pakistan in opposing India’s downgrading of Kashmir’s semi-autonomy and continuing restrictions on the disputed region.
Xi was greeted at the Chennai airport by Tamil Nadu state Gov. Patwarilal Purohit as a cultural group beat drums and blew horns.
India’s foreign ministry said Xi and Modi met in the seaside temple town of Mamallapuram over dinner for nearly two hours on Friday. The talks will continue Saturday.
Modi and Xi resolved to work together in facing the challenges of radicalization and terrorism besides emphasizing on expanding trade and investment, the Press Trust of India news agency cited India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale as saying.
There was an acknowledgement that both India and China were “very complex and very diverse countries” and both would work together so that radicalization and terrorism did not affect their multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, Gokhale said. He did not give details.
India accuses neighboring Pakistan of arming and training insurgent groups fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan denies the charge.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and the two countries have fought two wars over its control since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.
The leaders’ meeting in Wuhan, China, in April 2018 was preceded by tensions caused by a 10-week standoff between their armed forces on the Bhutan border.
Mamallapuram was decorated with arches studded with fruits and green vegetables. Hundreds of young children in traditional dress carrying posters with photographs of Xi and Modi waited for hours to greet the Chinese leader.
The town was under tight surveillance, with thousands of security personnel. Mamallapuram is 55 kilometers (35 miles) south of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.
China claims some 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India’s northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin Plateau in the western Himalayas. Officials have met at least 20 times to discuss the competing border claims without making significant progress.
The two countries fought a border war in 1962.
India also is concerned about China’s moves to build strategic and economic ties with its neighbors, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
Tensions in Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India but claimed by both, have escalated since August, when India downgraded the semi-autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir and imposed a security and communications lockdown.
China supported Pakistan in raising India’s actions at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. China said India should not act unilaterally in Kashmir, a portion of which China also controls.
Xi arrived two days after hosting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Beijing.
On Friday, Pakistanis formed a human chain in the capital, Islamabad, to express their support for people in Indian-controlled Kashmir. In a speech to the participants, Prime Minister Imran Khan criticized Modi for downgrading Kashmir’s status and said Kashmiris will get independence soon.
He termed the change in Kashmir’s status a “stupid act” and said Kashmiris will not accept it.
India says Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. “China is well aware of our position. It is not for other countries to comment on the internal affairs of India,” India’s External Affairs Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, said he expected an overview of relations by the two leaders and “instructions on how the relationship should proceed.”
He said the diplomatic damage the Chinese inflicted over India’s action in Kashmir has been done. “This is not going to be undone. India has stuck to its position and received international support,” he said.
China for its part resents India’s hosting of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 and took refuge in India.
The Tibetan Youth Congress in a statement on Friday urged Prime Minister Modi to take up the Tibetan issue with Xi during the summit. “TYC condemns the Communist government of China and its president as long as the Communist Party continues to suppress the struggle of the Tibetan people,” it said.
It also said that Indian security forces arrested the group President Gonpo Dhundup and 11 other student members just before President Xi’s arrival at the summit venue to prevent them from staging any protest and demanded their immediate release.
China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, although many Tibetans say they were essentially independent for most of that time. Communist troops took control of the region in 1950 after a brief military struggle.
Referring to India’s support for China’s position on Tibet, Mansingh said that India backs China’s territorial integrity. “China will not keep on challenging our territorial integrity. Otherwise we will have to have to take a different view on the issue,” he said.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.