Long-term goals for Modi & Xi meet

India and China have been making the right noises ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping tipped to be one of the most significant engagements between the two leaders who are looking beyond the recent acrimonious phase in the ties.

“Our common interests far outweigh our differences. The two countries have no choice other than pursuing everlasting friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation and common development,” said state councillor Wang Yi after the meeting between Indian and Chinese foreign ministers in Beijing. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was equally cordial in her interaction and emphasised that the two nations should learn each other’s languages. She played on India’s soft power mentioning the popularity of Bollywood films like ‘Dangal’ in China.

Acrimonious past

The voices of bonhomie were in sharp contrast to the situation a couple of months ago when Beijing warned India of interference in the Maldives and cautioned against a fresh military build-up in the contentious Doklam plateau area which was the ground zero of a bitter 73-day stand-off last year.

In that backdrop, Beijing has taken the lead in extending unusual protocol courtesies to the Indian Prime Minister. It will be one of the rare occasions when Xi Jinping will be travelling outside Beijing to Wuhan City to host Prime Minsiter Modi in the “informal summit” on April 27 and 28. The two leaders have already met on six occasions since 2014 and are meeting for the second time in little over six months. In another rare occurrence, Prime Minister Modi will be in China again in June for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.

India has reciprocated the positive steps. In an unusual move, New Delhi distanced itself from the Tibetan government in exile’s plans to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The ground work for the high-profile visit was cemented by Sushma Swaraj who met her counterpart Wang. Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is next in the Beijing queue.

Beyond the bonhomie, the two leaders will look for ways to come together on global issues without allowing their differences to become roadblocks. India has opposed China’s Belt and Road Inititative, expansion in the Indian Ocean and aggressive posturing on the border.

India’s suspicion

There is deep-rooted suspicion in New Delhi over the Beijing-Islamabad military nexus. These issues will continue to simmer but the significant aspect of Prime Minister Modi’s visit is to move forward and enhance economic cooperation. Both the sides have much at stakes. India’s economy is rising and China’s growth has taken a dip. The aggressive economic policies of US president Donald Trump, the evolving situation in West Asia and Russia’s influence have forced China to have a re-think on its foreign policy.

India has also shown flexibility in its approach as it appears to be more accommodative after staring Beijing back in the eyes during the Doklam stand-off when the PLA and Indian Army faced each other in aggressive posturing. China occupies a central place in India’s foreign policy and ties with Beijing have always are viewed with suspicion. The growing economic and military might of China has been a cause of concern and the situation had only worsened in the recent years despite frequent meetings between Modi and Xi. The two leaders had started on a cordial note but relations deteriorated quickly on a number of issues including Beijing blocking India’s entry to the Nuclear Supplies Group and refusing to denounce Pakistan for supporting terrorists.

Columnist: 
Gautam Datt