You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Brics Summit 2017: Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping to hold bilateral talks shortly

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-09-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping on Tuesday, during which the two countries are expected to take stock of bilateral ties, buffeted by a military standoff on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan—their longest in two decades—that ended only last week.

The meeting between the two is scheduled for 10am (IST) and is Modi’s last engagement in the Chinese city of Xiamen before he departs for Myanmar on a two-day visit. Modi has been in Xiamen since Sunday for the 9th meeting of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) group of emerging economies.

The Modi-Xi meeting will be closely watched for many reasons.

For one, it is expected to give pointers to how future relations will evolve. Most analysts agree that the Doklam standoff—which lasted 73 days—has changed the dynamics of the India-China relationship, accentuating the distrust between Asian giants who share a 3,800km mountainous frontier that remains un-demarcated in most places.

“There will certainly be a recalibration of how we engage and relate to each other,” said C.U. Bhaskar, director of New Delhi-based think tank Society for Policy Studies. “Doklam has set a new normal to the uneasy India-China ties. It is a stand-alone case because it involved a third country, Bhutan,” Bhaskar said.

Tensions between India and China rose after Bhutan objected to an attempt by Chinese troops to build a road on the Doklam plateau in June. Indian troops stationed in Bhutan under a special security arrangement intervened to keep Chinese troops at bay. India said the action to construct the road changed the status quo and expressed concern that the road will allow China to cut off access to India’s northeastern states.

The military face-off saw China upping the ante with state-controlled media and senior government functionaries accusing India of “trespassing” into Chinese territory and reminding India of the outcome of the 1962 war between the neighbours that ended badly for India. India, on its part, remained circumspect, issuing only one detailed statement, besides emphasising the importance for quiet diplomacy to sort out the issue. On 28 August, the two countries said they had disengaged.

The two leaders had previously met in early June, days before the standoff began, in the Kazakh capital Asthana, where they had agreed that differences between them should not be allowed to become disputes, according to Indian foreign ministry officials. That the Doklam confrontation took place almost immediately after the Xi-Modi meeting is something Indian officials and analysts have found difficult to explain.

Xi and Modi met again in July, on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Germany, weeks after the standoff began. News reports said China tried hard to play down that a bilateral meeting took place between the two. But the Indian foreign ministry posted a picture of the two leaders together at Hamburg on its official Twitter account—indicating an interaction between Xi and Modi.

According to former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, India would review the “form and content” of bilateral ties in the aftermath of Doklam. This, he said, does not mean India and China will not cooperate at multilateral fora like the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, World Trade Organisation and Brics, Sibal said. “But the undercurrent of the relations will remain negative given that mistrust has been reinforced by the recent standoff,” he said.

That India had stood up to China during the Doklam standoff would not have been lost on India’s smaller neighbours, who have often played the two Asian giants off against each other, he said.

Happymon Jacob, a professor of international relations at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the India-China relationship was likely to grow more prickly in the future.

“China has been clearly upset that India and Bhutan did not attend the Belt and Road conference it organised in May,” Jacob said, referring to a modern-day “Silk Road” that China is trying to build connecting itself by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Pakistan and Central Asia, and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

“It’s my assessment that China will challenge India’s exclusivity more and more in South Asia and ties will become more and more difficult,” Jacob said. “India will need to engage China a lot more and the Brics Summit is a good occasion to initiate a dedicated backchannel with Beijing given the high potential for disagreements in the future,” Jacob said, adding that Tuesday’s Modi-Xi meeting could be a good opportunity to launch this process.

Given the backdrop of an uncertain world with most countries looking inward, “more diplomacy between India and China seems to be the best way forward”, Jacob said.

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon