India-China bilateral trade hit a new record in 2023: Envoy

Trade between India and China reached record levels in 2023, the Chinese envoy to India said, pointing out that bilateral trade surpassed 2022 figures despite a slowdown in the middle of the year. At an event in Delhi to celebrate Chinese New Year, envoy Charge d'Affaires Ma Jia said the growth in trade to $136.2 billion was coupled with other areas of “improvement” in bilateral ties, citing the informal meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in August.

In 2022, bilateral trade had touched a record $135.98 while the trade deficit in China's favor had crossed a massive $100 billion, driven by a 21 per cent rise in imports from China to India, despite ongoing bilateral tensions over the military standoff at the Actual Control Border (LAC).

“Over the past year, China-India relations have shown positive momentum of improvement. The two sides maintained high-level communication and interaction. President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi reached an important consensus to stabilize bilateral relations. “China has supported India's chairmanship of both the G20 and the SCO,” Ms Ma said, addressing guests at a reception at the Chinese Embassy in Delhi on Tuesday.

“Bilateral trade volume reached $136.2 billion last year, representing a year-on-year growth of 1.5%. India's exports to China also increased by 6% last year,” she added, noting that the bilateral trade deficit that India was aiming to reduce could also be lower, according to figures officially announced for the first time.

Despite the increasing engagement, China has not appointed an ambassador to Delhi for over 16 months, the longest such period to date, and Ms Ma will soon complete her assignment in Delhi. The two countries have also not resumed direct flights between them, and the increase in trade comes despite the other trade and investment restrictions India has imposed since 2020 in the wake of the Galwan clashes and the killing of soldiers.

“As spring approaches, we hope that the window for communication will become larger, the platform for practical cooperation will become larger, the bridge for people-to-people exchanges will be rebuilt, and the two peoples will be able to invest in each other's land and travel freely practically,” Ms Ma said, also praising India for its “best-ever performance at the Asian Games” in Hangzhou last year.

The Chinese envoy did not directly mention tensions at the LAC, where military commanders have held 20 rounds of talks since China massed troops along the LAC in April 2020 and clashes erupted. Despite numerous rounds of negotiations and the informal meeting between the leaders on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa last year, talks remain deadlocked over at least two points of friction in Demchok and Depsang.

Instead, Ms. Ma referred to the 70th anniversary of the Panchsheel Agreement between India and China this year and described the five principles of peaceful coexistence as “a fundamental norm that governs international relations.”

“In 2024, we hope that conflicts and wars will end, displaced people will soon return to their homes, and international justice and fairness will be truly upheld,” Ms. Ma said.

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