China on Tuesday insisted that it is still India's biggest trade partner in 2021-22 as per its figures and attributed the "disparity" to different methods of calculating the trade volume by New Delhi and Beijing while referring to reports that the US has unseated it to take the top slot.
"According to the statistics of Chinese competent authorities, bilateral trade volume between China and India stood at USD 125.66 billion in 2021," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing when asked about reports of the US overtaking China to become the largest trade partner of India in 2021-22.
"China remains the largest trade partner of India and for the first time the bilateral trade exceeded USD 100 billion in 2021," Zhao said.
"The disparity in trade figures published by China and India is a result of different statistical measurement scales," he said.
China follows the financial year from January to December, while India calculates the same from April to March every year.
At the same time, Zhao said, "China does not object to the development of normal trade relations between India and the US, and is not that interested in the changes of the ranking in trade volume", playing down the US, which is fast improving its relations with India with strategic tie-ups like Quad, (US, India, Japan, Australia) alliance unseating it from the top slot.
China has remained a dominant trade partner of India for a long despite the widespread concerns over the ballooning trade deficit every year.
Zhao declined to go into issues of trade barriers and other constraints being mentioned by Indian businesses, saying the details should be obtained from the Chinese Commerce Ministry.
For years India has been insisting that China should open its markets for India’s IT and Pharmaceuticals, the country’s main strengths of exports but Beijing is yet to oblige.
The trade deficit with China rose to USD 72.91 billion in 2021-22 from USD 44 billion in the previous fiscal year as per Indian figures whereas the US is one of the few countries with which India had a trade surplus amounting to USD 32.8 billion last year.
As per the Indian data, China was India's top trading partner from 2013-14 till 2017-18 and also in 2020-21. Before China, the UAE was the country's largest trading partner.
"What we care about is whether the Indian side has the will and takes real actions to create a fair, transparent, sustainable and sound environment for bilateral trade and investment, further expand mutually-beneficial cooperation between the two sides and deliver tangible benefits to the two countries and two peoples," Zhao said.
Asked whether the Ladakh standoff which cast a shadow on the bilateral ties for over two years is also impacting the trade ties between the two countries, he said, "At present, the border situation is stable in general. The two sides have been maintaining close communication through diplomatic and military channels."
On Tuesday, senior diplomats of the two countries exchanged views on the current situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Western Sector in eastern Ladakh.
The two sides also agreed to hold the next (16th) round of the Senior Commanders meeting at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement from all friction points along the LAC in the Western Sector in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols.
Zhao reiterated China's oft-repeated stand that Beijing believes that the boundary issue is not the whole of India-China relations.
"China always believes that the boundary question doesn’t represent the whole of China-India relations and we should put it in an appropriate position in bilateral relations and under effective control and management. We hope India will work with China to continuously enhance mutual trust, strengthen practical cooperation, and ensure that the bilateral relations will move forward along the right track, deliver more benefits to the two peoples and make greater contributions to the region and beyond," he said.
Indian media reports on Sunday said the US surpassed China to become India's top trading partner in 2021-22, reflecting strengthening economic ties between the two countries.
According to the data of the Indian commerce ministry, in 2021-22, the bilateral trade between the US and India stood at USD 119.42 billion as against USD 80.51 billion in 2020-21.
During 2021-22, India's two-way commerce with China aggregated at USD 115.42 billion as compared to USD 86.4 billion in 2020-21, the data showed.
Trade gap rose to USD 72.91 billion in 2021-22 from USD 44 billion in the previous fiscal year.
Trade experts believe that the trend of increasing bilateral trade with the US will continue in the coming years also as New Delhi and Washington are engaged in further strengthening the economic ties.
To another question about reports of Indian investigations into the alleged violation of rules by Chinese phone makers ZTE and Vivo in addition to Xiaomi, Zhao said, "the Chinese government is closely following the situation."
"The Chinese government always asks Chinese companies to abide by laws and regulations when doing business overseas. In the meantime, we firmly support Chinese companies in safeguarding their legal rights and interests," he said.
"The Indian side should act in accordance with laws and regulations and provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies operating in India," he said.
(With PTI inputs)