The border standoff on a plateau next to the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tension between the two countries that share a 3,500km frontier, large parts of which are disputed.
Troops from both sides have been locked in a confrontation across the plateau which Bhutan—a close ally of India—claims. The plateau is also close to the so-called strategic Chicken’s Neck region of India—a thin strip of land that connects the rest of the country to the remote north-eastern states.
“At BRICS leaders’ informal gathering @ Hamburg hosted by China, PM @narendramodi and President Xi had a conversation on a range of issues," said a Twitter post by Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay.
According to a report by the Xinhua news agency, Xi urged BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) to push for a “peaceful settlement" of regional conflicts and disputes, and to consolidate the role of the G-20 as the premier platform for international economic cooperation.
The Xinhua report did not elaborate on what Xi meant by “regional disputes".
A picture posted on Twitter by Baglay showed a smiling Modi and Xi shaking hands. Another picture on the website of China’s People’s Daily newspaper showed a smiling Xi and Modi holding hands and standing alongside the presidents of Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
Baglay’s Twitter post did not make clear whether the three-week-long military standoff on the Dokalam plateau in Bhutan was discussed. Dokalam—known as Doka La in India—is at the tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan. China claims it as part of its Donglang region. India last month objected to the Chinese starting to build a road in the region.
The Indian government in a statement last week said the construction activity goes against a past agreement with the Chinese that the India-China border which falls at a tri-junction with third countries—in this case, Bhutan—will be delineated in consultation with the third country.
The interaction between Xi and Modi comes after the Indian and Chinese foreign ministries ruled out a meeting between the two leaders on Thursday, with China saying “the atmosphere" was not conducive for such talks and the Indian side saying no meeting had been sought.
According to Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, “The conflict remains at the tactical level" or at the level of the two armies facing off against each other.
“The message from Xi and Modi could be that things are calm at the strategic level and that tensions have not graduated to that level and that it is right now contained at the tactical level," Kondapalli said.
Meanwhile, at the BRICS meeting, “the leaders discussed preparations and priorities for the forthcoming Xiamen BRICS Summit", said a statement by the Indian government.
Modi said that BRICS “has been a strong voice and needs to show leadership on terrorism and global economy. He stressed that G-20 should collectively oppose terrorism financing, franchises, safe havens, support and sponsors," the statement said,
Modi “advocated a collective voice against the practices of protectionism, especially in the spheres of trade and movement of knowledge and professionals. He reiterated India’s commitment to implementing the (2015) Paris (Climate Change) Agreement in letter and spirit and described its implementation globally as essential to fighting climate change," the statement said.
The prime minister appreciated momentum gained by BRICS under the chairmanship of Chinese President Xi and extended full cooperation and best wishes for the BRICS Xiamen Summit, it said.
Xi on his part “appreciated India’s strong resolve against terrorism and the momentum in BRICS introduced under India’s Chairmanship and through the outcomes of the Goa Summit in 2016", it added.
Later, at the G-20 meeting, Modi named Pakistan-based terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed while saying that some countries were using terror as a tool to achieve political objectives as he pressed for “deterrent" action collectively by the G-20 members.
Modi equated Lashkar-e- Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohamamd with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, saying their names may be different but their ideology was the same.
With leaders including US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi listening, Modi expressed regret that the international response to terrorism was weak and said more cooperation was needed to fight the menace.
Modi presented an 11-point “Action Agenda", which included suggestions for exchange of lists of terrorists among G-20 nations, easing and expediting of legal processes like extradition and concrete steps to choke the supply of funds and weapons to the terrorists.