MAMALLAPURAM, TAMIL NADU: The Modi-Xi Jinping informal summit in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, appears to have given a shot in the arm to a deeply troubled relationship. India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale reeled off key takeaways from the discussions between the two leaders, leading with a “trade mechanism” proposed by the Chinese president as a way of addressing India’s burgeoning $57 billion deficit with that country.
“The mechanism will discuss trade, investment and services at an elevated level led by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and a Vice-Premier from the Chinese side,” Gokhale told journalists during a briefing at the end of the informal summit. “It will look at the possibility of establishing manufacturing partnerships and identifying sectors where such investment could create jobs.”
For his part, President Xi welcomed investment in his country by India’s IT and pharma majors. He also took note of India’s concerns regarding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership even as Prime Minister Modi indicated that India was looking forward to it.
Xi called for boosting defence and security engagement and urged more contacts between the militaries of the two countries. He invited India’s defence minister to China for taking these negotiations forward. The details will be worked out by the Indian Defence Ministry and its Chinese counterpart. Incidentally, China had proposed on Friday, another layer of confidence building measures to ensure no untoward incident on the disputed boundary. Related to this, India has given the go-ahead to the next round of border talks at the level of special representatives. India had put off the talks in September, citing scheduling issues.
The two leaders emphasised the value of greater people to people ties to lessen distrust. It was resolved that since this is the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China, and India will mark 75 years of independence in 2022, cultural events will be held in either country every week through the year showcasing each other’s culture and history. Linked to this was “Chennai Connect”, the plan to link up Tamil Nadu with Fujian province of China, thereby re-establishing ties dating back to the Pallava Dynasty.
President Xi mentioned Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing but Gokhale emphasised that “Kashmir was not raised or discussed”. He reiterated that both leaders took a strong stand against radicalisation and terrorism that threatened their diverse and complex societies.
They underscored the importance of their “independent and autonomous foreign policies”, called for strengthening the “rules-based international order” and said the World Trade Organization was a pillar of the international system and must be supported.
The informal summit format will continue. Xi has already invited Modi for the next summit in China and the Indian leader has accepted. The decision to continue the summit suggests both leaders see it as a useful and convenient way to stay in touch and talk frankly to each other. The challenge remains translating the understandings arrived at during such summits into resolving long standing and current disputes and minimising their impact on the overall relationship.