Bibhudatta Pradhan and Rakteem Katakey New Delhi

India and China have discussed boosting economic ties and countering terrorism in the first formal talks between the two countries since Narendra Modi was elected as India’s prime minister last month.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had spoken to her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on attracting more Chinese investment, potentially into industrial parks, Syed Akbaruddin, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman, said at a briefing in New Delhi yesterday. He did not specify if the two had talked about border disputes in the more than three-hour meeting, adding “everything was discussed”.

“China is a neighbour with whom we share a long border. Our neighbourhood is a major focus of our government,” Akbaruddin said. “The perennials of India-China engagement are well known,’’ he said. The two ministers “felt there was a tremendous untapped potential for growth of economic ties”.

Modi in his election campaign promised to take a harder line on protecting India’s borders with China than his predecessor as the two nations aimed to end troop clashes that have hobbled their relationship for the past five decades. Modi warned China in February to drop its “territorial mindset” and said India’s weakness had encouraged China’s army to enter Indian territory last year.

Modi held talks with neighbouring countries, including arch-rival Pakistan, straight after his inauguration, as he signalled that he would prioritise building ties close to home before focusing on relations with the US, China, Russia and Japan.

“With China, Modi will be trying to balance trying to win their investment for things like infrastructure projects, and at the same time trying to reinforce the borders,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

India and China have sought to prevent their disagreements from affecting economic ties. China is India’s largest trading partner and their combined trade was $49.5 billion (R523bn) from April to December last year, Indian government data show.

India accused China of occupying 38 000km2 of territory in Jammu and Kashmir, while the government in Beijing laid claim to 90 000km2 of land in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. – Bloomberg