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Real test: How to put into effect Modi-Xi push to ease strain in ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. Almost all irritants in the relationship seem to have been discussed during talks spread over two days—including the ballooning trade deficit in favour of China and India’s views on terrorism. Photo: APPremium
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. Almost all irritants in the relationship seem to have been discussed during talks spread over two days—including the ballooning trade deficit in favour of China and India’s views on terrorism. Photo: AP

Wuhan summit between PM Modi and Xi produced broad strategic understanding of the future trajectory of India-China ties

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping ended their first ever informal summit with a pledge to ease strains between India and China that peaked last year over a 73-day military standoff along their border in Doklam.

The “informal" summit in the central Chinese city of Wuhan produced a broad strategic understanding of the future trajectory of ties. That, said analysts, seems to have been the easier part. The real test lies in how the understanding gets translated into policy and action on the ground in the coming weeks and months, they said.

One key takeaway was the agreement that the “strategic communication" between the two leaders will continue. Another was the understanding that India and China will “respect each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations."

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale told reporters that Modi and Xi agreed that “it is important to maintain peace and tranquillity in all areas of the India-China border region, and to this end, the two leaders decided that they would issue strategic guidance to their respective militaries to strengthen communication to build trust and understanding, to implement various confidence-building measures which have already been agreed upon by the two sides, and to strengthen existing institutional mechanisms to prevent and manage situations in the border areas."

Almost all irritants in the relationship seem to have been discussed during talks spread over two days—including the ballooning trade deficit in favour of China and India’s views on terrorism.

According to Manoj Joshi, senior fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, “the question now is how to implement the strategic vision agreed to by the two leaders on the ground, to get the militaries and the bureaucracies of the two countries to push forward with the execution of the ideas."

On border peace and tranquillity, pacts were signed in 1993, 1996 and 2013, Joshi said, pointing out that these however did not prevent transgressions.

“It is clear that India has taken a step back from conducting megaphone diplomacy over issues like China not allowing (Pakistan-based militant) Masood Azhar from being placed on a UN Security Council list of proscribed terrorists or standing in the way of India becoming a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group," he said. adding these issues are likely to be discussed in a quiet manner away from public gaze.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal was of the view that the biggest takeaway form the Wuhan summit was the assurance that another Doklam-like standoff would not be allowed to happen. “I think the Prime Minister (Modi) has come back home with this reasonable confidence," he said.

“I would say the Prime Minister has made a bold move by engaging China before some of the others (in Asia, like Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe). Given the unpredictability of the Trump administration (in the US), this is important for India," he said. “But questions remain on how India and China are going to address their other differences over the trade imbalance, (China’s) Belt and Road Initiative or even over border talks," he said.

Another case in point, Sibal said, was a reference in an Indian statement on the talks to Modi and Xi directing “their militaries to earnestly implement various confidence-building measures agreed upon between the two sides, including the principle of mutual and equal security, and strengthen existing institutional arrangements and information sharing mechanisms to prevent incidents in border regions."

“There can be different interpretations of ‘mutual and equal security’ from our side and their side," Sibal said, adding that “the execution of the understanding of the two leaders’ vision will be crucial" in the coming months.

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