Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to China at the end of April to hold a one-on-one meeting with President Xi Jinping.
The unprecedented meeting between the two leaders can significantly help in re-defining Sino-Indian relations in the coming days.
Modi is also scheduled to travel to China in June this year for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit. But the coming meeting on April end is a separate one and precedes the engagement the two leaders may have at the SCO Summit.
Sources say the main aim of this high-level engagement is to bring the two neighbours in a more cooperative plane where they face the challenges of the world together and how they want to help their respective people in meeting their aspiration and dream.
The Indian PM and Chinese President’s meeting slated to take place in less than 10 days, is being compared with the one Rajiv Gandhi had with Deng Xiaoping in 1988. That engagement had helped in changing the course of Sino-Indian relations, paving the way for a more cooperative bilateral tie and bringing peace and tranquility along their disputed boundary.
The parallel between the two meetings, though separated by 30 years, should also be kept in mind. Rajiv Gandhi had undertaken his China visit on the last leg of his prime ministership and at a time when the Bofors scandal had politically marginalized him. Modi also undertakes this important visit towards the last leg of his tenure and though, he may not be politically as marginalized as Rajiv, the mounting criticism on his government for a number of issues within the country cannot be denied.
The expectations are high therefore; that the Modi-Xi meeting will also help in changing the course of the bilateral relations of the two Asian neighbours, which in the recent past had been dominated by strains and misunderstanding.
The Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj who will be in Beijing this weekend to hold a meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on April 22 will formally announce the date of the Modi visit.
Interestingly, the Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman will also be in the country at the same time to hold a separate meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe.
It is not without significance that while the two-plus-two meeting that India and the US had been having for the past years between the foreign minister and defence ministers together meeting their counterpart, did not take place this year. However, the India-China meetings between these ministers are not in the same format but more as part of the SCO foreign and defence ministers. However, there is no denying that in both these ministerial engagement many issues will come up and discussed that will ultimately help in maintaining the cordial atmosphere of the Indian PM and the Chinese President.
But it will certainly be the Modi-Xi meeting, without aides or any other official-- apart from two note-takers cum interpreters-- that will draw the focus not only in India and China but also in other world capitals.
The meeting between the two leaders is being described as a “conversation” and part of their “strategic communication.” This will allow the two leaders to sit across the table and share their world views with each other in a frank manner and in an atmosphere of cordiality.
This unprecedented meeting between Modi and Xi is taking almost six months after the Doklam crisis that for weeks put the armies of the two countries in close proximity, raising the scepter of an armed conflict between the two Asian giants.
But neither Modi nor Xi is expected to raise “contentious” and “individual” issues where the two countries have serious differences. Rather the focus of their conversation will be on the “Big Picture”—the challenges and the opportunities before the world in the coming days and how the two leaders want to deal with them. The agenda for the talks between these two leaders is not being drawn by the foreign office and it has basically been left to Modi and Xi on what they want to talk to each other when they meet.
The 1988 Rajiv Gandhi-Deng Xiaoping meeting did help in removing strains in Sino-Indian relations and gave each other the confidence that despite their differences they can put in place a structure that will prevent future wars between them. But In the past three decades both China and India have changed drastically. They have their own set of challenges and aspirations. The Doklam episode only showed that a war or another armed conflict will only bring losses for the two countries and seriously hamper their growth model and derail them from their development path.
Therefore, both countries felt it was about time that they find an opportunity where the two most important leaders of India and China can sit together and candidly share their concerns and also their dreams with each other.
The main goal is to have a dialogue between two ancient civilizations and also two important economies in the world. China is already the second largest economy in the world and aspires to become the leading economy in the globe in the next 25 years. But India is also a significant economy in Asia and the world and in the coming days may well become the third largest economy.
Sources say that it was this hard-nosed rethink of the two sides in the post-Doklam phase that forced them to do a reality check and look at a new engagement, in which despite some of their serious differences, the two neighbours can look for more cooperation between themselves and work together in reshaping Asia and the world.
While, the Modi-Xi meeting will not discuss bilateral or regional issues which have plagued relations between the two neighbours in the past, a series of important meetings between senior officials and other ministers will be help in and around the meeting of the two leaders, that will help take the relations forward.