Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday raised with Chinese President Xi Jinping the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, Beijing’s “all-weather friend”, in a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hangzhou.
Modi told Xi that countries have to be responsive to each other’s sensitivities, India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said at a press briefing after the meeting.
The two leaders were meeting for first time after new irritants have cropped up in the already tenuous Sino-India relations plagued by a festering border dispute, Beijing’s close ties to Islamabad and a massive trade surplus in favour of China.
“China is willing to work with India to maintain their hard-won sound relations and further advance their cooperation,” President Xi said during the 30-minute meeting.
The Sino-India partnership was important for the region and also for the world, Modi told the Chinese leader. India and China should understand each other’s aspirations and concerns for better ties, Swarup quoted the PM as saying.
The leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies, including the US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the new UK Prime Minister Theresa May, have gathered in this scenic city -- about an hour on a bullet train from Shanghai in eastern China – for the two-day summit.
“Ever since the beginning of this year, there have been new disturbances in our bilateral relations. But I am glad to find that after foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to India, the situation is stabilising,” said Hu Shisheng, south Asia expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Hu said it was a good move by the two foreign ministries to “…establish a new mechanism at the level of the foreign secretary and the deputy foreign ministers to discuss all kinds of sensitive issues. The most important part is that the two sides should communicate... frankly and candidly.”
The list of old and new differences between the two neighbours is long: China taking the lead in blocking India’s bid to enter the NSG that controls global trade in nuclear technology, Beijing opposing UN sanctions against Jaish-e-Muhammed chief Masood Azhar, the suspected mastermind of the Pathankot airbase attack, to name a few .
Though officially China has been calm about it, it will not be a surprise if Xi raises with Modi India’s recent signing of the logistics exchange memorandum of agreement (Lemoa) with the US, asking him to clarify the country’s doctrine of non-alignment.
China though is not worried about the agreement, an expert said.
“There is no panic in China over Lemoa. It doesn’t mean US will use Indian bases... China is not worried. China and India relations are not a zero sum game,” Ye Hailin, director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at the elite Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Cass) told HT.
“India will not give up its independent foreign policy. There is no formal military alliance with the US and there is no shift in India’s strategic doctrine.”
Bilateral trade needs some impetus, experts say.
In 2016, the bilateral trade from January to May has fallen nearly 6% to $26 billion compared to the same period last year. The chronic problem of trade deficit for India – and trade surplus for China – for the five months in 2016 is nearly a whopping $20 billion.
Hangzhou, the host city
Modi reached Hangzhou late Saturday night and was welcomed at his hotel by an enthusiastic group of the city-based Indians.
For the resident of Hangzhou, recent weeks have meant living through increasingly tight security – so much so that nearly two million residents have left the city to avoid the inconvenience.
For one, you might not get a glass of fresh fruit juice, which for some inexplicable reason is being seen as a security threat and banned in many places.
Then, you as a conscientious citizen of the city might be asked to “contribute by wiping out four pests” – flies, cockroaches, mosquitoes and rodents. A campaign to wipe out the “pests” has been on since March and is reaching a crescendo this weekend, according to reports in state media.
Airports and railway stations have been on alert for days and armed personnel deployed across the city to keep a watch.
As many as 150 checkpoints have been put up on the streets and traffic re-routed especially around the summit venue.
According to official news agency Xinhua, more than 3,900 volunteers recruited from universities will help in the summit logistics.
“The volunteers, who are mostly college students and teachers who can speak a foreign language, were chosen from over 26,000 applicants from 15 universities across Zhejiang province,” volunteer coordinator Wang Huilin told Xinhua.
China has temporarily shut down more than 200 companies around Hangzhou and put restrictions on vehicles to check pollution.