President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands at a press conference in New Delhi, India, Sept 18, 2014. (Photo/Xinhua)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will begin his first trip to China since taking office a year ago by visiting the temple where Buddhist monk Xuanzang translated scriptures after an epic 17-year journey to India.
He will be given the highest-level reception when he arrives on Thursday, with President Xi Jinping accompanying him throughout his stay in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province. It is very rare for Chinese leaders to accompany foreign guests outside Beijing.
"President Xi invited me to visit his hometown," Modi told his micro-blog followers on Sina Weibo.
Xi's family is from Shaanxi province, and when he visited India in September the trip began with Modi greeting the Chinese president in his home state, Gujarat.
"I expect to visit the famous historic city closely related to Xuanzang," Modi wrote.
Xuanzang was a key figure in Chinese Buddhism who lived during the early years of the Tang Dynasty (AD 617-907). He set off on his arduous trip to India, studied there for 17 years, then brought back many Buddhist sutras and translated them into Chinese.
"Xi'an symbolizes the two countries' cultural exchanges," said Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
"It's apparent the leaders are seeking to deepen their personal ties and highlight the two civilizations' cultural links by making Xi'an the first stop."
Hu said Xi'an, previously known as Chang'an, was a major city at the start of the ancient Silk Road, and the visit is a way for Modi to welcome China's "One Belt, One Road Initiative".
Ashok Kantha, India's ambassador to China, said: "Last year, you all saw how Prime Minister Modi warmly welcomed President Xi. This time you will also see President Xi and Premier Li (Keqiang) welcome Prime Minister Modi in a special way."
Ram Madhav, the general secretary of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, said: "The greatest impediment in India-China relations is the trust deficit. By engaging with each other swiftly, the two leaders demonstrated that they are determined to address and reduce the trust deficit.
"Managing a number of contradictions is the real challenge for the governments. In the given geostrategic and geopolitical situation, enhancing mutual trust and establishing a strong working relationship at various levels right up to the top is of utmost importance, which the two leaders seem to realize."
After Xi'an, Modi travels to Beijing where Li will host a welcoming ceremony. The two leaders will have an official meeting and attend cultural exchange events.
Modi has prepared carefully for the trip, and opened his Sina Weibo account so he could make contact with the people of China. The Indian embassy said he edited his first posting early on the morning of May 4 and asked his staff to translate it into Chinese. He wrote six pieces over the next five days and attracted more than 46,000 fans.
Modi's three-day visit will also take him to the financial hub of Shanghai, where he will meet business leaders and members of the Indian community.
Kantha said the countries are likely to agree on more than 10 projects and sign at least 20 agreements on economic and trade cooperation during the visit.
Le Yucheng, China's ambassador to India, said that if the visit goes well, the value of the deals to be signed will exceed $10 billion.
China is India's largest trading partner, with trade volume set to reach $100 billion this year.