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The ‘informal summit’ between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping that was held at Wuhan last week marks a new chapter in the Indo-China diplomatic relationship. The previous nearly two years was a period of heightened tension between India and China on account of multiple issues causing serious friction, including the Doklam standoff last year, China’s opposition to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) club and India’s bid for permanent membership to UN Security Council.
Besides, China repeatedly blocked efforts at UN to list Pakistan based JeM Chief Masood Azhar, who masterminded the 26/11 attack in Mumbai, as a global terrorist. Further, in spite of India’s representations, China has recently constructed a new road and military posts in Shaksgam Valley, north of Siachen Glacier in PoK.
Similarly, India’s stand on the South-China Sea and Chinese adventurism in the Indian Ocean, as also, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plummeted the bilateral relationship to an all-time low. For a detailed view over this: https://latestexplained.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/indias-supremacy-in-indian-ocean-challenged-by-china/
Most importantly, Trump’s economic policies that has hit China where it hurts the most, has resulted in worsening the Sino-US relations to the extent that India’s newfound closeness with United states is also being viewed by China with calculated skepticism.
Hence, this recent development comes with some hope to bring about a thaw in the ever deteriorating Indo-China relationship. .
Major Challenges: Sino-India Relations
The major challenges that afflict Sino-India relations, has been discussed in detail in my previous blog. A read through this blog will help to correctly comprehend the precise reasons behind the sticky wicket that we share with China: https://latestexplained.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/sino-indian-relations-from-hindi-chini-bhai-bhai-to-product-boycott/
The Doklam Standoff and Previous Skirmishes between India and China
India and China have had many military standoffs and skirmishes between the troops in the past. Please read my previous blog on the subject, especially to understand the genesis of the real issue and what pre-emptive steps can be taken by India to keep China at bay.
India-China Dialogue Consolidates India’s Regional Position
The Military vulnerabilities and its domestic compulsions have compelled China to take up this initiative of a dialogue, so as to suppress any further animosity with India.
Military Vulnerabilities of both, India and China have been discussed in detail in this very interesting previous blog that you may like to peruse to understand the options for a military operation and its possibility in the present geo-political scenario.
The major reasons for China to have agreed to resume dialogue with India unconditionally and on equal terms, is that India did not succumb to Chinese aggressive stance during the Doklam standoff, as also the principled and consistent position on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has made it amply clear to China that it is no longer possible to intimidate India.
Secondly, the rare honour (usually reserved for American President’s) accorded by the Chinese President to the Indian Prime Minister by inviting him for an informal summit may be attributed to the negative economic headwinds being faced by China lately.
China is at the receiving end after the Trump administration slapped 25% tariffs on $50 billion to $60 billion in Chinese exports to the US, including aerospace, information and communication technology, and machinery to restrict China from demanding technology transfers from US companies in return for access to China’s market.
Please read a detailed blog regarding the looming threat of a US-China trade war:
Hence, at a time when China is yet to complete the restructuring of its domestic economy, it is important for Beijing to work together with New Delhi, given the shared global economic climate.
The Great Thaw in the Sino-India Animosity
The thaw in the hard stance adopted by both sides appeared when two high-level delegations from China planned to visit India within a few weeks of each other in December 2017.
First it was the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and then the State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who visited India.
India too reciprocated and its outreach to China was visible when it cancelled the Dalai Lama’s events in Delhi marking the occasion that commemorated 60 years of the Tibetan government in exile in February 2018.
The string of official visits by Indian dignitaries to China continued. The Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale visited China on February 23rd. Followed by the visit of India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
On 24th April 2018, the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman attended the meetings of the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SC0) at Beijing.
These visits did the initial spade work and fine tuned various details for the ‘informal summit’ between the two premiers at Wuhan. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou also travelled to India last month to finalize the summit details.
The idea of this informal meeting was to give the two leaders adequate space, so that they could engage in a free-flowing conversation without the encumbrances of media glare and the worry of outcomes to further facilitate the necessary thaw in the ongoing adversities.
Key Takeaways from the Modi-Xi Informal Summit
The following were the major takeaways from the ‘informal summit’:
Confidence Building Measures to Reduce Border Tension: Both the leaders underlined the significance of maintaining peace and tranquility in the border region. They decided to issue strategic guidance to their respective militaries to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding.
Measures to Promote Frequent and Meaningful Dialogue: In order to prevent undue escalation of issues, it was decided to create a broad platform of dialogue and discussion through which contentious matters can be addressed and resolved.
Strengthening the Closer Development Partnership: Both sides agreed that, a stable and balanced relation between the two neighbours is vital for the development and prosperity of the people as well as the region. In order to bolster development partnership, it was decided during the course of the meeting that India and China will undertake a joint economic project in Afghanistan.
Promotion of Bilateral Trade: The two leaders affirmed that India and China are the “backbone” of the world’s multipolarisation and economic globalization. Hence, the two countries could complement each other to push forward bilateral trade and investment in a balanced and sustainable manner and jointly make positive contributions to the global peace and development.
China Agreed to ‘Not’ to be too hard on India on the Belt and Road Initiative: China feels that there is no fundamental difference between China and India on the issue of supporting inter-connectivity and it was pointed out that whether India accepts the expression Belt and Road or not, it is not important and that China will not be too hard on it.
The meeting between the two leaders was called an ‘informal summit’ because it was accepted that there cannot be any major decisions or a change in guard on the core issues.
However, this “forward-looking dialogue” was definitely a unique opportunity to directly exchange views and forge a common understanding of many complex issues. Both the leaders agreed that meetings on the lines of the Wuhan Summit will determine the future direction of India-China relations.
PM Narendra Modi reciprocated by inviting Xi to India for a similar informal summit next year.