Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Chinese President Xi Jinping for informal summit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday at the beginning of his "informal" t...

Posted: Apr 27, 2018 2:03 PM
Updated: Apr 27, 2018 2:04 PM

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping Friday at the beginning of his "informal" two-day relation building summit in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The meeting, widely interpreted as attempt to reset relations and rebuild trust, follows an extended period of diplomatic estrangement between the two neighboring nuclear powers.

Though officials from both sides have stressed that the meeting will be an open forum, with no stated goals or set agenda, an op-ed published Thursday in the state-owned China Daily suggested the summit would focus on a number of key issues, specifically global governance and shared international challenges.

"The common interests of China and India far outweigh their differences ... Of course Xi and Modi will also address each other's concerns, but they are not likely to indulge in strategic distrust and geopolitical competition," the opinion piece said.

The summit comes after the two countries were involved in a tense 72-day military stand-off last summer over the disputed border region of the India-China-Bhutan "trijunction."

On Friday afternoon, Modi and Xi had a one-on-one meeting before visiting the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, home to some of China's oldest cultural relics.

Indian Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar said Modi had been welcomed to the museum with an "impressive" cultural performance. "India and China's cultural connect goes back many centuries," he said on his official Twitter.

According to a schedule released by the Indian Foreign Ministry, Xi and Modi have a total of six engagements planned over the two-day period.

On Saturday, they are expected to hold a second one-on-one meeting at state guesthouse on the banks of the East Lake, followed by a boat ride.

Modi said on his official Twitter, ahead of his departure, the meeting would provide the two leaders with an opportunity to exchange views on a range of issues of "bilateral and global importance."

"We will also review the developments in India-China relations from a strategic and long-term perspective," added Modi.

Unlike a more traditional state visit, the casual setting appears to have been arranged in a bid to avoid potentially complex policy negotiations.

Writing in the Hindustan Times on the eve of the summit, Chinese Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, described the two countries, that taken together comprise more than 2.6 billion people and 17.6% of the-global economy, as being at a "critical stage of economic development and modernization," pointing out that economic and trade cooperation between the two nations has surged in recent years.

China is India's largest trading partner with a total of $84 billion in bilateral trade last year. But the economic relationships is dwarfed by the US-China trade volume, which stood almost $600 billion.

Referencing the rising threat of US protectionism, Luo went on to stress the importance of maintaining free and open cross-border trade. "With the current backlash against globalization, a heart-to-heart dialogue between the two leaders will promote free trade," read the op-ed.

Whether Modi and Xi can work to develop closer trade ties, will depend to some extent on their ability to overcome more lasting, politically sensitive issues.

The Himalayan standoff in 2017 was the latest in a long-running series of territorial flare-ups between the two superpower neighbors. In 1962, China and India engaged in a bloody border war, and skirmishes have continued to break out sporadically in the decades since.

Other longtime sore points between include China's ardent backing of Pakistan, India's arch rival, and New Delhi's-sheltering of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing considers a separatist traitor.

According to Indian media reports, a joint statement will not be issued following the visit.

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