Modi-Xi summit: India, Chinaexpected to attempt ways to fashion re-balance in ties

MAMALLAPURAM: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will accord a warm welcome to Chinese President Xi Jinping when he arrives in this coastal town on Friday for an informal summit during which the two leaders are expected to attempt a strategic re-balancing in bilateral ties, strained by a hardline approach on the Kashmir issue from both sides.

The two leaders will hold talks at the 7th century Shore Temple complex overlooking the Bay of Bengal in an informal setting in the evening without aides or any agenda with a focus on charting a new roadmap for the overall expansion of ties.

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Modi, who landed in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai before proceeding to Mammallapuram, about 50 km away, by helicopter, expressed the wish that the summit will further strengthen ties between India and China.

“Landed in Chennai.I am happy to be in the great land of Tamil Nadu, known for its wonderful culture and hospitality,” he said in tweets in English, Tamil and Chinese.  “It is gladdening that Tamil Nadu will host President Xi Jinping. May this Informal Summit further strengthen ties between India and China,” he added.

External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Twitter that the two leaders will exchange views on a range of subjects “unrestricted by a set agenda”.

The second edition of the informal summit between Modi and Xi comes over two months after India withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and reorganised the state into two union territories. China, an all-weather friend of Pakistan, criticised India’s move and even raised the issue in UN General Assembly.

The first informal summit between the two leaders was held in the picturesque Chinese lake city of Wuhan in April 2018, months after a 73-day face off between the armies of the two countries in Doklam trijunction raised fears of a war between the two Asian giants.

Ahead of the two-day summit in this seaside resort town, Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong told PTI that a “new set of consensus”, including “guiding principles” on giving a new direction to the bilateral ties, is expected from engagement.

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Strategic affairs expert Ashok Kantha said the focus of the summit on Friday and Saturday would be to move beyond contentious issues and not allow the Kashmir issue to adversely impact overall ties.

Mamallapuram, a town with strong trade links with China’s Fujian province, has been spruced up and brought under an unprecedented security cover – in the process inconveniencing local people as well as tourists.

Officials said Xi will arrive at Chennai airport around 2 pm and then head off to a luxury hotel. At 5 pm, Modi will take Xi to three iconic monuments of Mamallapuram – Arjuna’s Penance, Panch Rathas and the Shore temple.

The two leaders will witness a cultural programme at the temple complex. The two leaders will sit together in the lawns of the Shore temple and exchange views on charting a new roadmap of development and cooperation.

Then, the Prime Minister will host a private dinner for Xi at the Shore temple complex. The menu is likely to have a host of sumptuous traditional dishes. On Saturday, the two leaders will have an one-on-one meeting at the Fisherman’s Cove resort which will be followed up by delegation-level talks. After the talks, Modi will host a lunch for Xi, and the Chinese leader will leave for Chennai airport at 12:45 pm, they said.

A joint statement issued after talks between President Xi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said China is paying “close attention” to the situation in the Kashmir and that it should be be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter.

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In its reaction, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said India’s consistent and clear position has been that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of the country and China is well aware of New Delhi’s position.

Government sources also said there was no question of any discussion on the issue as it is India’s sovereign matter but added that Modi will update the Chinese president on the matter if there is a query.

Both leaders are likely to explore ways of expanding trade and business ties. India is expected to raise the issue of ballooning trade deficit in China’s favour, sources said. They added that political relations, trade and ways to maintain peace and tranquility along the nearly 3,500 km long Sino-India border will be major focus areas in the talks.

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The ties between India and China came under some strain after India announced withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5. China criticised India’s decision and its Foreign Minister Wang Yi even raised it at the UN General Assembly last month.

Days later, Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing said that China was working for Kashmiris to help them get their fundamental rights and justice, comments which did not go down well with New Delhi.