Strategic Panel Discussion, ‘The Unique 2nd Informal Modi-Xi Jinping Summit’, 10 Oct 2019
Opening Remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta

Wuhan summit 27-28 Apr 2018 was an attempt on both side to repair the relationship that have suffered following the Doklam crisis in Jun 2017. It was an informal summit aimed at mutual trust and reaching a degree of convergence on global issue as well as agreeing on a way forward in bilateral relations. The Wuhan spirit, which essentially means that the two sides would achieve a “peaceful, stable and balanced relations” by maintaining a strategic communication, succeeded to a point.

The 2nd informal summit between Modi and Xi at Mamallapuram is the continuation of the Wuhan summit. The two leaders had met on the sidelines of SCO summit in Bishkek in Jun 2019, in which they agreed that the “outcome of Wuhan was a very positive and that it was necessary to move the relations forward in the new area” they also agreed that “both side need to raise our expectations from the relationship”. It is in that context that Prime Minister Modi invited President Xi Jinping for the next informal summit. President XI accepted the invitation and said that “he look forwarding the discussions all issues from a strategic and long term perspective”
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On the conclusion of the Wuhan summit, no joint statement was issued. Instead two separate statements were issued. This provided both side flexibility to highlight their understanding of what was discussed. For instance, the Indian statement mentioned that the two leaders asked the Special Representatives to “intensify their efforts to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement”. The Chinese statement merely noted that the two leader agreed to “use the Special Representative meeting on the boundary question to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement”. The urgency expressed in the Indian statement was missing from the Chinese statement.

It is clear that the purpose of the informal summit process is to take Sino-Indian relation to a higher level while maintaining a stable and balanced bilateral relationships. The External Affairs Minister, during his visit to Beijing in Aug 2019, had stated that, “the future of the India-China relationship will obviously depend on mutual sensitivity to each other’s core concerns… properly managing differences is therefore vital… differences should not become disputes”.

Since the Wuhan summit, a High Level Mechanism has been set up. Two meeting of the HLM have been held within eight months of each other. Ten areas to strengthen cultural exchanges and people to people contacts have been identified. Both sides agreed to organize 100 activities in this regard. Four MOU/Agreements covering traditional medicines Archeological Heritage site, cooperation in the sports arena and museum management. On the economic front two there have been some progress although bilateral trade deficit continue to increase. The Indian side is hoping to greater access for pharmaceutical and IT products and services in the domestic Chinese market.

In view of the above, it would be natural to have high expectations from the Mamllapurm summit considering that the informal summit process is aimed to not only to help resolve the outstanding issues but also identify new areas of cooperation.

Fresh Challenges

Unfortunately, fresh strains have appeared in bilateral relations this year. China supported Pakistan and Pakistani position following the Pulwama terror attack as well as helped it by organizing a close door meeting in UNSC after India abrogated article 370. China also issued a strongly worded statement holding that abrogation of Article 370 amounted to the infringement of Chinese sovereignty. Chinese Foreign Minister’s statement in UNGA 74th session mentioned, interalia, that the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan should be resolved in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and bilateral agreements on Kashmir.

The Pakistan-China Joint Press Release issued on 09th Oct 2019, a couple of days before the arrival of President Xi Jinping in Mamallapuram repeated the reference to UNSC resolution. It said that China was “paying close attention to the current situation in J&K” and reiterated that J&K should be “properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. China opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation”.

Clearly these statement have not gone down well either with the Indian government or the Indian public opinion. They have cast their shadow on bilateral relations. The Indian side has reminded China that J&K is an internal issue and assured that reorganization of J&K does not change India’s position on the boundary issue. Both sides may take a view of the larger global context of Sino-Indian relations and circumvent the contentious issues which can derail the bilateral relationship. But it will be difficult to not talk about the complex issues impacting the bilateral relationship.
The Mamallapuram summit also presents a chance to both sides to clarify mutual perception on important issues. From the Indian side, issues like boundary settlement, unbalanced trade, CPEC etc. are key. India may not raise the Kashmir issue on its own but would, if required, certainly like to clarify to China why abrogation of 370 is an internal matter for India in which no other country has any locus standii. China may express their desire to build relationships further. They always advise that the differences should be held in a “proper manner”. They would not like India to tilt towards the US and thereby create problem for China. It remains to be seen whether the two side will come up with some initiatives to resolve their outstanding their boundary issues. In the Wuhan summit and also at Bishkek, the two leader did talk about the boundary issues.

Although Sino-Indian relationship goes beyond any single issue including Pakistan, the fact is that Sino-Pak relations, the way it is developing has serious security implications for India. China knows about this but needs to be reminded as and when necessary. India would have to realize that China-Pakistan relationship is very deep. China cannot be expected to dump Pakistan for India. At the same time China has global and regional ambitions which can be detrimental to Indian interest.

We will have to wait whether a major break through will happen in Mahabalipuram meeting. China would have to show some sensitivity to Indian concerns.

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