Wuhan watershed

| Updated on April 27, 2018 Published on April 27, 2018

The Modi-Xi summit is truly a landmark moment but it may be too much to expect anything extraordinary from the informal talks

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a great believer in ‘personal’ diplomacy where the leaders of two countries get together and strike a mutual understanding, the details of which can then be worked out by teams of diplomats. But his attempts to strike a closer relationship with China have never gone according to plan, with border skirmishes and disputes over India’s efforts to sanction Pakistan queering the pitch. For several months, both sides have been working on patch-up moves and the result is the suddenly announced one-to-one Wuhan meeting. The keenness for a settlement was reflected in the Global Times, which even-handedly outlined both countries’ grouses with each other. “The Doklam stand-off did not happen all of a sudden, but was the result of the accumulation of mistrust between the two countries,” said the newspaper.

On a different note, Modi’s also keen to present a diplomatic victory as the country moves into an election year and he also wants to ensure there are no further border stand-offs. And, for their part, the Chinese are also eager to see that India does not get too deeply involved in the Quad, the informal grouping of the US, Japan, Australia and India, that clearly aims to contain China. From the Indian side, we’ve noted that the US didn’t offer clear support during the Doklam crisis. The Chinese are also alarmed by Donald Trump’s threatened tariff war and want to build up alternative, promising markets like India. In the last year, the Chinese have already been speeding up their investments here in producing everything from mobile phones to automobiles and also electric buses. China is also India’s top trading partner, though the trade imbalance is heavily weighted against us. The Indian government has been pushing China to open its market for software services and also pharmaceuticals to restore the balance. At a different level, the Chinese are certainly still annoyed by India’s blunt refusal to take part in the Belt and Road Initiative. They were also infuriated earlier, by India’s overtures to Mongolia, which China sees as its backyard.

The fact is that this is the season of sudden diplomatic about-turns. The leaders of North and South Korea have just met and Kim Jong Un is even expected to meet President Trump in the very near future. It can’t be entirely unconnected Xi decided it would be good to put away the hatchet with India for the moment. It may be too much to expect anything extraordinary from unstructured talks of the kind that are now taking place in Wuhan. But, coming so soon after Doklam, it is a huge step in the right direction.

Published on April 27, 2018
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