For India and China, two “ancient civilizations”, “largest emerging economies” and “most populous nations”, 2016 hasn’t been a great year.
Multiples issues have plagued bilateral relations, which are anyway blighted by the long-standing and world’s longest land border dispute.
The euphoria of hometown diplomacy in Ahmedabad and Xian of 2014 and 2015 now seems a long time ago.
If the mostly frozen border problem wasn’t enough, new and not-so-new issues have cropped up: China twice blocked a UN Security Council ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, seemingly galvanised support against India’s application to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), is blatantly going ahead with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and is apparently doing little to reduce the trade deficit of around $52 billion.
None of these issues – especially the CPEC which India sees as a strategic thorn – will be resolved anytime soon; definitely not over this weekend in balmy Goa.
These are complicated issues whose time for resolution hasn’t come. China’s foreign ministry said as much on Friday that the twin issues of Azhar and the NSG will take time to resolve.
The testy bilateral situation changed just a bit on the margins of the G20 summit in Hangzhou last month, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met on the busy sidelines of the G20 Summit – and the aim in Goa will be take that momentum forward.
The Hangzhou meeting was what diplomats privately called a “clear the air” meeting. The thrust of that Modi-Xi meeting was to stem the slide in relations and voice the broad issues. In Goa, it will be about taking steps to move the relationship forward.
If nothing else, the Hangzhou meeting decided it was time to hold the first Sino-India counter-terrorism dialogue. Within three weeks of the decision, on September 27, Joint Intelligence Committee chairman RN Ravi led a small team to Beijing, where he held talks with Meng Jianzhu, head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee.
The timing of the meeting was important – Kashmir was on the boil, the attack on the Indian Army base in Uri had taken place nine days ago and, unknown to most at that time, India was preparing for surgical strikes on terror bases in PoK.
Officials privately said there was a “message” in the timing of the dialogue as Beijing was closely watching developments in the northwestern part of its borders.
The meeting in Goa between Modi and Xi will also focus on building on what started in Hangzhou.
It will also be important to see in the next few months whether any senior military or internal security official from China visits India. Though there is unlikely to be any announcement about such visits in Goa, but if such a trip – say by a PLA general – does take place, it will carry on the momentum of high-level exchanges between the two countries.