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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks at a terracotta warrior as he visits the Terracotta Warriors Museum, a World Heritage Site in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China, 14 May 2015. (EPA/INDIAN PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU)

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's three-day visit to China that concluded Saturday was meant to mark the start of a new chapter in relations between the world's two most populous countries.

Indian and Chinese officials inked 24 agreements aimed at improving trade and other ties. Summing up the spirit of the new, Modi, who came to power in an electoral landslide last year, took a selfie with Chinese premier Li Keqiang.

But when it comes to Sino-Indian diplomacy, the past hangs heavy over the present. After a bitter, brief 1962 war, New Delhi and Beijing still spar over a disputed Himalayan border. The presence of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after China invaded and annexed Tibet, is a permanent irritant.

Nationalist publics in both countries regard each other with a mix of wariness (more so in India's case) and contempt (more so in China's). According to a recent Pew survey, less than a third of either nation's population views the other favorably.

To compensate for this lack of trust, the leadership of both countries harp on the ties of the past -- the really far away past. In any bilateral relationship, there's a bit of history, but few reach back as far as India and China.

First, there are frequent references to how the two countries were at the top of the economic ladder for most of world history (the past few centuries posing an unfortunate aberration) -- as the Economist helpfully provided (see below) ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's landmark three-day tour of China this week.

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