GP Insights # 164, 12 October 2019
During 11-12 October, Modi and Xi Jinping had their second informal summit following Wuhan. The two days visit has been a grandeur with both leaders visiting Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu. Modi said: "The Wuhan summit instilled a new momentum and trust in our relations and today's 'Chennai connect' is the start of a new era in India-China relations." Both leaders reiterated 'Asian Century' which was earlier mentioned in the April 2018 summit.
What is the background?
The summit comes at a time when India and China are tangled in complex geopolitical equations. The rigorous preparedness for the event shows India's attempt to rejig its relations with China.
The lead-up to this summit has been calmer than the inaugural summit of April 2018 which was a resultant of the long standoff at Doklam. The last meeting touched upon issues such as bilateral trade, security, strategic communication and terrorism, and issued joint assurances. The summit has been careful and cautious in touching upon problems such as the Kashmir issue and India's position on Belt and Road Initiative. Attempts by Pakistan to persuade China on these issues have not made a dent. President Xi recently tweaked his stance on Kashmir sealing it as a bilateral issue by saying "China supports Pakistan to safeguard its own legitimate rights and hopes that the relevant parties can solve their disputes through peaceful dialogue." Since the last meeting, both India and China have been consistent in balancing tensions and building consensus.
What does it mean?
First, the absence of any significant border issue highlights the effectiveness of the 2018 summit, which called for building friendly narratives and strengthening cooperation along borders.
Second, the summit called for setting up of new trade and investment mechanisms between the two countries. This is to resolve India's trade deficit with China, and its repeated request for market access in Beijing. It also comes in the backdrop of reaping potential as emerging South Asian drivers of global growth. India relaxed its visa restrictions for the Chinese, easing multiple entry rules for the visitors.
Third, the summit stressed cultural exchanges and widening people to people connect. In particular, this included enhancing academic ties between Tamil Nadu and Fujian province. This signals an accommodative stance of both countries in strengthening ties.
Fourth, despite President Xi's meeting with Pakistan PM Imran Khan before the summit, there was no mention of Kashmir in the event. The leaders shared common outlooks on dealing with the issue of terrorism and radicalization. China's change of decision regarding Masood Azhar also highlights India's diplomatic success and sharing of similar grounds by both countries.