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Narendra Modi commits to China visit, day after Doklam standoff defused

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-08-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: A day after India and China agreed to disengage their troops from the site of border standoff on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan, New Delhi on Tuesday announced the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China next week.

He will be attending the 3-5 September meeting of Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) countries in Xiamen.

Modi is also expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping for bilateral talks on 4 September in Xiamen on the margins of the summit.

This will be the first time the two leaders will meet in what many see as vastly altered circumstances. The perception is that India’s unflinching stance despite relentless Chinese rhetoric, and the abrupt end to the 73-day confrontation on the eve of the summit, have reset the terms of engagement between the two countries.

Hence, the outcome of the bilateral meeting will be keenly followed.

“At the invitation of the President of People’s Republic of China, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will visit Xiamen in China’s Fujian province ... to attend the 9th BRICS Summit,” the statement said. “Subsequently, Prime Minister will pay a State visit to Myanmar from 5-7 September at the invitation of U. Htin Kyaw, President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” it added.

With Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a standoff since 16 June, speculation was rife over whether Modi would skip the BRICS Summit.

According to some Indian analysts, Modi’s visit to China would have been untenable if the standoff had remained unresolved.

In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “We hope all relevant parties can play a role for the success of the (BRICS) Summit. We hope to get the support and coordination from all relevant parties.”

On the resolution of the standoff, Hua said: “Peaceful resolution of the issue through the diplomatic channels serves the common interests of all relevant parties... .It shows the sincerity and responsible attitude of China as a major country.”

The standoff was sparked by Chinese troops attempting to build a road on the Doklam plateau despite Bhutan’s objections. Indian troops stationed in Bhutan under a special security arrangement intervened to keep Chinese troops at bay. India said a Chinese border road would have changed the status quo by allowing China to cut off access to North-eastern states through a narrow strip of land known as Chicken’s Neck.

On Monday, the Indian foreign ministry said “expeditious disengagement” of border personnel at Doklam “has been agreed to and is ongoing.”

Government officials on Tuesday declined to comment on how the compromise was reached—whether India had pulled back first, allowing China a face saver, or whether there was the withdrawal was simultaneous.

“The fact is that our goals have been achieved,” said a person familiar with the development—referring to the Chinese troops withdrawing with the earth-moving equipment without constructing the road.

“India was non-committal about Modi’s visit for the BRICS Summit,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. “This could have certainly been one of the reasons that persuaded the Chinese side to arrive at an agreement,” Kondapalli said, adding that China would have been anxious to conduct a successful BRICS Summit given that it was the most influential country in the grouping that brings together key emerging economies.

Meanwhile, the Modi government on Tuesday briefed opposition leaders on the easing of Doklam standoff with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj speaking to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders.

Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar also telephoned Anand Sharma, deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha and informed him about the easing of border tensions at Doklam. “This understanding that has been reached is a positive development which we support,” Sharma later said.

Communist Party of India leader, D. Raja, who was one of the opposition leaders Swaraj briefed, also welcomed the development, saying it “is in the interest of the two countries”.

PTI contributed to this story.

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