Thursday, October 17, 2019
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Chinese Checkers At The Crack Of Modi-Xi Informal Summit

Hours before the second Modi-Xi informal summit, China has decided that its ties with bankrupt Pakistan matter more that relations with India. The China-Pakistan joint statement issued at the end of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing kicks India in the teeth. It says that China “was paying close attention to the current situation in J&K and reiterated that the Kashmir issue… should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements”.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs responded quickly. It said “India’s position has been clear and consistent that Jammu & 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”.

The low-key statement suggested India did not want to give the Chinese side any excuse to cancel the informal summit. As for China, it appears to have no apprehensions about India calling off the summit. Why else would it in a manner of speaking, ‘poke India in the eye’ on the eve of the Modi-Xi meeting? Or is China setting up the summit to fail?

Earlier on Wednesday, the government sought to gloss over the delay in the announcement of the Mahabalipuram meeting, claiming that all speculation it would not happen was “unfounded”. Sources said it was “jointly decided to announce the visit only two days before”. Why so for such a crucial meeting is not clear.

President Xi arrives on Friday and will proceed to Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram where Modi will personally take him around the heritage site. There will be one-on-one talks on that day followed by more chit chat the next day. A delegation-level dialogue is also planned with the foreign ministers and national security advisers of both countries participating.

“The idea is to enhance their personal connect, build confidence and communication at the highest level and give directions going forward,” the sources said. Since discussions are not structured, no MoU or agreement will be signed although there will be a statement issued at the end of the talks on Saturday.

But the sources disclosed that the two leaders are expected to endorse more confidence-building measures to ensure continued tranquility on the disputed border. A counter-terrorism drill is expected to be held sometime in December but details are still awaited.

Modi is expected to push President Xi on issues like India’s bilateral trade deficit, now over $57 billion. “Some progress on regulatory issues has been made but these are yet to translate into trade figures, volume-wise or value-wise,” the sources acknowledged.

Other issues for discussion are reform of the UN Security Council, challenges to the World Trade Organisation and the “selective walking back on global trading arrangements”.

Clearly, keeping in view the need to ensure a “successful summit”, India and China have decided to set aside recent differences that have raised their hackles. From India’s point of view, these include China’s support for Pakistan to the extent of seeking to insulate Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar from UN strictures; China investing in CPEC ventures in Pakistan even when these are in Pak Occupied Kashmir; China’s attempt to drag India to the UN when it ended Kashmir’s special status and so on.

If anything, it suggests the trust deficit continues and there is no change in China viewing India in adversarial terms. India has upped its own game, from Modi’s bromance with Donald Trump in Houston, Texas, agreeing to the elevation of Quad meetings to the ministerial level and kicking off the first tri-services drill with the U.S. later this year.

There are demands in some quarters that India pay China back in the same coin, by using the Tibet card against China. That would be the equivalent of Beijing’s “370 moment” but for now, in the interest of keeping the China relationship ticking, the focus is on pulling off a successful summit and register some gains for India.

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