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Folk dancers rehearse by the road before the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Vadanemmeli, on the outskirts of Chennai on Friday (Reuters file)
Folk dancers rehearse by the road before the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Vadanemmeli, on the outskirts of Chennai on Friday (Reuters file)

China’s Xi Jinping arrives in India for informal summit with Modi

  • The meeting in Mamallapuram is the third between the two leaders since Modi’s re-election as prime minister in May
  • Friday’s talks between Modi and Xi will look to build on the relationship reset that began in Wuhan in April last year

New Delhi: Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in India on Friday for the second India-China informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the southern coastal town of Mamallapuram, with both sides looking to chart a new course for bilateral ties over the next few decades, overlooking a series of irritants that have recently cropped up between the two.

Xi arrived at the Chennai airport at 2.00 pm.

The meeting in Mamallapuram is the third between the two leaders since Modi’s re-election as prime minister in May and the sixth since Modi and Xi sat down for their first informal summit in Wuhan last April.

Later on Friday, Modi will take Xi to three iconic monuments in Mamallapuram -- Arjuna's Penance, Panch Rathas and the Shore temple. The monuments date back to the Pallava era (4th to 9th century) and one of the reasons for choosing Mamallapuram was to highlight the contacts between the Pallava kings and China’s Fujian province where Xi served as governor once.

The two leaders will also attend a cultural programme at the temple complex before sitting down for a round of talks in the lawns of the Shore Temple. Modi will host a private dinner for Xi at the temple complex that will round off the programme on Friday, according to a schedule put out by the Indian foreign ministry.

Friday’s talks between Modi and Xi will look to build on the relationship reset that began in Wuhan in April last year when the two leaders had agreed that “the two countries have the maturity and the wisdom to handle all our differences through peaceful discussion within the context of this overall relationship and bearing in mind that we would respect each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations."

Earlier this week a person familiar with the developments said the objective of the informal summit was “ensure that communication between leaders is one which is routinised, easy going and its one that indicates that President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are getting down to business in an informal way not simply in a structured summit.... but in a much more practical way of several hours of one to one discussion at which any subject can be discussed."

Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong was quoted as saying by news reports that a "new set of consensus" including "guiding principles" on giving a new direction to the bilateral ties were expected after this weekend’s summit.

The Friday-Saturday summit comes in the wake of a series of irritants including a statement by Xi telling Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan that he was watching the situation in Kashmir and would support Islamabad on issues related to its core interests. The comment was in the context of tension between India and Pakistan after New Delhi on 5 August scrapped a temporary provision in its constitution that gave special status to Kashmir and integrated the region more closely with India.

Xi’s comments drew a sharp response from India’s foreign ministry that was also notable for its timing – less than 48 hours ahead of Xi’s arrival in India. “India’s position has been consistent and clear that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. China is well aware of our position. It is not for other countries to comment on the internal affairs of India," foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.

China on its part has been reportedly unhappy over Indian military exercises in Arunachal Pradesh, some 100 km from the un-demarcated border between the two countries. China claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory.

The irritants surfacing in India-China ties ahead of the Mamallapuram summit has been in sharp contrast to the atmosphere ahead of the run up to the Wuhan meet last year. The announcement to the Wuhan meet had signalled a thaw in bilateral ties after the 73-day India-China military face off at Bhutan’s Doklam plateau in 2017.

Modi had spent close to two days at Wuhan with Xi. In contrast Xi is in India for less than 24 hours though he will be stopping over in Nepal for a visit on his way back to Beijing.

People familiar with the visit though have said the summit’s informal structure is expected to help provide an easy setting for the leaders to meet and discuss where they see India-China going over the next several decades. No agreements are expected, giving the leaders the time needed to discuss all matters they want to.

The broad talking points will likely include the unresolved border dispute, trade and people-to-people contacts besides regional and global issues.

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