New Delhi: India and China seem to have reached a broad strategic understanding on how to take forward ties, rocked by an unprecedented 73-day-long tense military standoff along their common borders last year, at the end of a rare informal summit between the top leaders of the two countries.
The two day summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping took place in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and ended on Saturday.
From the Indian perspective, an agreement between the two leaders that India and China will “respect each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations," and that they will maintain peace and tranquillity along their common but yet to be demarcated frontiers are seen as key.
A statement issued by the Indian government said PM Modi and President Xi reviewed developments in India-China relations from the strategic and long-term perspective. “They agreed to significantly enhance efforts to build on the convergences through the established mechanisms in order to create the broadest possible platform for the future relationship. They also agreed that both sides have the maturity and wisdom to handle the differences through peaceful discussion within the context of the overall relationship, bearing in mind the importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations," added the statement.
“Prime Minister Modi and President Xi underlined that as two major countries India and China have wider and overlapping regional and global interests," it said. The statement also added Modi and Xi recognized the common threat posed by terrorism, and reiterated their strong condemnation of and resolute opposition to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
Also read: Asia’s balance of power has become fairly lopsided
The summit was seen as an effort by India and China to repair trust and improve ties that were hit by a 73-day-long military standoff on Bhutan’s Dokolam plateau last year. The standoff rocked ties that were already seen as tense after India refused to attend a China organised conference on its flagship multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
There was also friction over China blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as Beijing’s refusal to back India’s attempts to get Pakistan based militant Maulana Masood Azhar named a terrorist.
On China’s part, it has concerns about India giving shelter to the Dalai Lama and his followers in India. Beijing has also been eying with concern India’s growing closeness to the US and joining the US, Japan and Australia for quadrilateral cooperation talks in the Indo-Pacific region.
And it is in this context that the agreement to respect each other’s sensitivities and to maintain peace on the border assume significance.
Briefing reporters in Wuhan, Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale described the talks between the two leaders as “forward looking"and that they were in agreement that the practice of such informal summits should continue. There were four one to one meetings between Xi and Modi on Friday and Saturday besides two others where senior officials joined in.
Modi and Xi agreed that “India and China, as major powers with decisional and strategic autonomy, will pursue peaceful stable and balanced relations and such a relationship will be a positive factor for stability in the current global uncertainty," Gokhale said. They also agreed that the “development of a sound bilateral relationship (between India and China) which have about 40% of the world population will also be conducive for development in the region," he said.
There was agreement on the need for “building an open, multipolar pluralist participatory global economic order," the foreign secretary said, adding that the two leaders also concurred on “the need to reform multilateral, financial and political institutions to make them more responsive to developing countries."
Xi and Modi “endorsed" the work done by the special representatives of India and China on trying to find a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement" to the boundary dispute, Gokhale said.
Pending the settlement, 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," Gokhale said.
The two countries have had 20 round of talks at the special representative level on their unsettled boundary without success. But they have signed several pacts in 1993, 1996, 2005 and in 2013 to ensure their border remains peaceful.
Another subject that came up for discussion was the burgeoning trade gap between India and China which is an irritant in ties given that the deficit is more than $50 billion in China’s favour. Gokhale said Modi had spoken of the need to make trade more balanced and referred to the possibility of increasing agricultural and pharmaceutical exports to China in this context.
Besides bilateral issues, Modi and Xi also agreed to “strengthen strategic communication between two countries through greater consultation on regional and international issues," Gokhale said, adding that the two leaders felt “this sort of a discussion would have a positive influence on enhancing mutual understanding," besides contributing to regional and global stability.
To widen the scope of their international cooperation, the two leaders also identified digital empowerment, global healthcare, combating disease, disaster risk and mitigation besides climate change as areas where the two could work in collaboration.