Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi share a quiet moment at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad during the Chinese president’s India visit.(AFP file Photo)
Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi share a quiet moment at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad during the Chinese president’s India visit.(AFP file Photo)

Walks, heart-to heart-talks, no joint documents at Modi-Xi Wuhan summit

When Modi and Xi meet during April 27-28, they will be accompanied only by their interpreters and there will be no joint statement or communiqué.
By Jayanth Jacob and Sutirtho Patranobis, New Delhi/beijing
UPDATED ON APR 24, 2018 11:47 PM IST

India and China are looking at continuing the practice of holding informal summits between their leaders should this week’s meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, result in a positive outcome, officials familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

When Modi and Xi meet on April 27-28, they will be accompanied only by their interpreters and there will be no joint statement or communiqué after the talks. Nor will there be an official note taker, given the informal nature of the meeting, billed as a “strategic communication” between the leaders of the two countries .

“It need not be a one-off meeting,” an official said on condition of anonymity. The outcome of this week’s meeting would determine whether more such summits are organized.

Chinese officials said the two sides will attempt to reach a consensus on outstanding issues. The focus will be on discussing issues that are overarching, long-term and of strategic importance to bilateral ties, they added.

Officials in New Delhi said there wouldn’t be discussions on “individual issues” such as India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the listing of Pakistan-based militants as terrorists by the United Nations. “This is in the nature of strategic communication at the highest level. It will be informal, broad-based and overarching,” said one person familiar with the format of the informal summit.

However,Chinese vice-foreign minister Kong Xuanyou noted that the level of mutual trust between the two sides is not consistent with the need for better ties. He indicated that the planned “heart-to-heart” exchanges between Modi and Xi would be a tentative step towards addressing this trust deficit.

Kong said “the current level of mutual trust is not consistent with the trend or not consistent with the need for better relations...it is not consistent with our objective of building an even closer partnership”.

“That is to say, there is still a long way to go to further deepen China-India friendship,” he added.

This is the first informal summit Xi is hosting in China. Xi has had informal summits with President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama in the US.

The officials noted that the meeting is being held in the wake of political realignments across the world, from Syria to Qatar to the Korean peninsula. “We reach out to countries individually in our national interest,” an official said.

Indian officials noted that a status quo ante exists on Doklam, located at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction where Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a 73-day military standoff last year. The objective -- that road construction by the Chinese military should not “prejudice” the understanding on the region -- has been fulfilled, the officials said. Last year’s stand-off between the two armies was resolved through diplomatic channels.

Kong said the Doklam stand-off occurred because of a lack of mutual trust. “At the informal summit, the two leaders will have heart-to-heart discussions on overarching issues and try to build mutual trust and consensus to resolve outstanding differences,” he said at a briefing on Tuesday evening.

He added, “The two countries need to create conditions and trust between them to resolve the boundary issue.

“In terms of some specific differences and sensitive issues, the two sides will stay in touch…through relevant channels…and in the process of deepening mutual trust, they will gradually find a way to settle them.”

Modi will directly fly to Wuhan on the evening of April 26 and meet Xi several times over the next two days. They are expected to go for a walk along the banks of a famous lake in the city.

The idea of the summit germinated at a meeting of the two leaders during the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Xiamen in south China last September. Modi and Xi had a bilateral meeting during the BRICS summit, days after the militaries of the two countries disengaged in Doklam.

Explaining the need for an informal summit instead of the usual structured meetings between leaders, Kong said it was important to build “rock solid trust” between the two leaders. “In other words, leaders need to become bosom friends, friends who can have heart-to-heart discussions,” he said.

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