Government looks to reset China ties with a Modi-Xi summit
India and China are discussing the possibility of an informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping as a part of an effort to reset bilateral ties set back by last year’s military standoff on the Doklam plateau, two persons familiar with the development said.
The summit, on the same format as informal meetings Xi has held with US President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama, could take place as early as in April, or in June, the two said on condition of anonymity.
An informal summit will give Modi and Xi an opportunity for a face-to-face discussion on various issues without aides being present. Only interpreters would be in attendance.
“The two sides are looking at building on the convergences and addressing their differences in a way that helps the relationship go forward. Looking at the possibility of the informal format would help the leaders to exchange their views more freely and frankly, ideally in a place outside the usual venue of national capital,” a diplomat, one of the two persons cited above, said.
The second person cited above, a government official, suggested that the meeting could take place as early as in April. “Then it all depends on what you could possibly achieve from this. There should be some takeaways the two sides would like to have after such an interaction,” he said.
The summit is being discussed in the context of India and China stepping up their high-level engagement following last year’s 73-day standoff on Doklam, at the tri-junction of Bhutan, India, and Tibet. Bhutan objected to Chinese troops constructing a road in Doklam, prompting Indian troops stationed in the Himalayan nation to intervene, sparking the standoff that ended in August.
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Beijing in February and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj is due to visit China on April 23-24 and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to follow suit soon after. Modi will be travelling to China in June to attend the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian grouping.
Experts see two sides making efforts to bring bilateral ties back on track. The Indian government has also instructed officials to stay away from functions to mark the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile in India.
“There are clear indications that there are efforts to bring momentum back into the relationship. And high-level exchanges help this”, said MK Bhadrakumar, former career diplomat and commentator.
Meanwhile, unlike in the past, India has agreed to ‘an appropriate’ participation in the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) meeting in Boao, a coastal town in China’s southern island province of Hainan.
BFA is the Chinese equivalent of World Economic Forum (WEF), and the meeting is to take place from April 8 to 11. India was represented at the event in the past at the level of embassy officials. This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s economic reforms.
“An Open and Innovative Asia for a World of Greater Prosperity is the theme of the conference, and something both the leaders of India and China agree to,” said the second official. But he insisted that “the level of India’s participation will be appropriate” refusing to provide details.