Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram. The ‘informal Summit’ went down well in terms of optics and frank discussion on issues of concern and also in terms of outcome. This is expected to further stabilise and expand bilateral relations in the light of turbulence in global and regional orders.
The 2nd informal summit between the two strong leaders of “simultaneously rising” countries in Asia was held closer to Chennai over the weekend. The first day was dedicated to larger strategic issues, civilizational connect and national developmental trajectories, trade and security concerns on terrorism. The second day had more substantial discussions related to bilateral issues and focused more on bilateral relations such as border stability, terrorism, trade, investments and people-to-people contacts.
On the optics, the visit to the Mamallapuram temple complex and Prime Minister Modi’s explanation of the civilizational importance since the Pallava dynasty has gone down well with China’s ‘Paramount’ leader. Beijing recently had organised the Asian Civilisations Dialogue. While India did not participate in this meeting – like the Belt and Road Imitative summits in 2017 and 2019 – there is some positive outcome in this regard.
There were frank discussions about each other’s positions on many issues of concern. The Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale categorically stated that the Kashmir issue was never raised at the meeting. Nor was there a mention by the Chinese side on the recent elevation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue at the foreign ministerial meeting at New York. Nevertheless, in light of the global uncertainties in trade value chain, weakening economic growth rates and investment flows, both Prime Minister Modi and President Xi agreed to work together on these issues for mutual benefit. Traditionally, India and China have come forward on multipolar issues and on promoting globalisation.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale described that the high level interactions had seventeen broad issues were deliberated upon by the two leaders during their meetings. At the Wuhan Summit, five issues came up for discussion including on “strategic communication”, maintaining border stability by introducing new confidence building measures, bridging trade deficits, undertaking joint projects in Afghanistan and expanding people-to-people contacts.
Many of those five points were reiterated at the Mamallapuram meet except Afghanistan. In the light of recent developments of the United States disregarding any deal with the Taliban, omitting the Afghan issue is interesting for the regional security situation.Prominent progress was made in terms of setting up of a high-level committee with Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Chinese Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua to address the issues on trade and investments. The trade deficit had become controversial given that over $65 billion deficit is in favour of Beijing and its discriminatory trade practices with hardly any Chinese investments in India.
Both leaders also emphasised on expanding people-to-people contacts. Last December during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s to New Delhi a “ten pillar” agreement was signed including on promoting tourism, youth exchanges, media and think-tank forums and museum management, Chinese language teachers etc. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar who visited Beijing in August this year also promotes these. A few days ago, India further liberalised e-visas to Chinese citizens to give a fillip to tourism.
The informal meet suggested sister-state relations between Tamil Nadu and Fujian Province as with expansion of maritime contacts. An academy is also to be instituted for the purpose of exploring the maritime connectivity between India and China of the yore.
The informal summit meetings hardly result in any concrete and tangible outcomes as these are mainly intended to create a conducive environment between the leaders. Prime Minister Modi and President Xi also appraised the practice of Informal Summits in a positive light as providing an important opportunity to deepen dialogue and to promote mutual understanding at the Leaders’ level in line with the ‘Wuhan Spirit’ and the ‘Chennai Connect”. They agreed to continue this practice in the future. President Xi invited Prime Minister Modi to visit China for the 3rd Informal Summit. Prime Minister Modi has accepted the invitation.
Script: Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, Chairman, Centre for East Asian Studies, JNU