Xi, Modi to Hold ‘Informal’ Talk amid Strained China-India Relations

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the West Lake State Guest House ahead of G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 4, 2016. REUTERS/Wang Zhao/Pool
REUTERS/Wang Zhao/Pool

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed on Thursday that he is going to visit his counterpart and strategic competitor President Xi Jinping in China this weekend to rebuild trust in the wake of tensions between the two neighboring countries, particularly along the border they share.

The meeting marks the first “informal discussion” between the two regional rivals since 1954, the Times of India (TOI), reports, adding:

The summit is being seen as an effort by India and China to rebuild trust and improve ties that were hit by the 73-day-long Doklam standoff last year … While no major agreements were expected to be reached at the summit, both sides have indicated that the meeting is aimed at giving an “honest try” by the two leaders to work out an understanding at the top on the future course of relations.

On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a joint press conference with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Beijing:

The leaders will reach a strategic conclusion about the global situation and the development of China and India. They will also set the general course, identify new goals and create a new dynamic for the growth of China-India relations.

We will make sure that the informal summit will be a complete success and a new milestone in the history of India-China relations … China and India are growing rapidly and simultaneously. This makes for a more balanced international geometry and a stronger trend towards peace.

PM Modi announced his meeting with Xi on Twitter.

He wrote on Thursday:

I will be visiting Wuhan, China on 27-28 [of] April 2018 for an Informal Summit with Mr. Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China. President Xi and I will exchange views on a range of issues of bilateral and global importance. We will discuss our respective visions and priorities for national development, particularly in the context of current and future international situation.

The meeting comes following the 70-day stand-off (June 16 thru August 28) between the two rivals along the Doklam border region last year and India’s ongoing refusal to support China’s multi-trillion dollar One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

In 1962, India and China went to war over a border dispute the ended in a ceasefire. Ongoing border tension between the two regional rivals has prompted heated rhetoric.

An unnamed senior Indian official told TOI this week:

India does not want war. But if the push comes to shove, we are prepared. China has been forced to grudgingly accept that India is no pushover after repeatedly testing our resolve over the last few years, especially during the Doklam troop face-off last year.

The remarks came soon after China taunted India over the Doklam dispute, declaring the region undisputed “Chinese territory” and urging New Delhi to “learn some lessons” from the incident.

In October 2017, news reports alleged that about 1,000 Chinese troops had remained in the Doklam region in the wake of the confrontation.

A few months later, in January of this year, India’s Economic Times reported: “1,600-1,800 Chinese troops had virtually established a permanent presence in the Doklam area.”

Besides the border region disputes, China has failed to win India’s support for its ambitious multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a component of Beijing’s OBOR project, known as the modern-day Silk Road.

On Tuesday, India refused to back CPEC during a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

New Delhi objects to the $57 billion CPEC because it runs through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region also claimed by India and Islamabad’s ally China.