China and India agree to keep peace along border, step-up dialogue

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping looking on in a house boat, at East Lake, in Wuhan, on April 28, 2018.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping looking on in a house boat, at East Lake, in Wuhan, on April 28, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China and India have agreed to strengthen communication between their militaries and keep the peace along their shared borders, signaling a successful reset in relations following a tense border standoff last year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued "strategic guidance to their respective militaries" to strengthen communication and build trust, and both sides agreed to handle differences with maturity and through discussions, a statement from Mr Modi's office said on Saturday (Apr 28) at the close of a two-day informal meeting between the two leaders in Wuhan, in central China.

Mr Xi said China and India "should be good friends and neighbours" given that the two Asian giants share a similar world view, and agreed that dialogue on issues of mutual concern should be more frequent.

"We should see each other as a positive factor in the changing balance in world power, and as partners to achieve our dreams of development," a Chinese foreign ministry statement quoted Mr Xi as saying.

The two-day informal summit saw both leaders hold six meetings in 24 hours, which ranged from delegation-level talks to a casual stroll along the banks of Wuhan's East Lake and an hour-long boat ride during which the two were accompanied only by interpreters.

Officials on both sides hailed the summit as a success, given that the objective of the meeting was to maximise quality time for frank discussions.

But Mr Xi and Mr Modi also agreed to deepen trade and investment ties, and to further China-India cooperation to counter terrorism, said India's Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale.

 
 
 

Indian media reported on Saturday (Apr 28) that both leaders agreed verbally to work together on a project in Afghanistan that would show the world that they could cooperate on a third country project.

Bilateral ties nosedived during a 74-day stand-off between the two countries' militaries in an area high in the Himalayas - Doklam to India and Donglang to the Chinese - that is claimed by both Bhutan and China but strategically important to India. The area in question is close to India's Siliguri Corridor or "chicken's neck", a narrow stretch of land that connects seven north-eastern Indian states to the mainland.

The incident deepened strategic mistrust between the two giant neighbours which were already saddled with simmering disputes along their long, 4,000km common border.

Mr Gokhale noted that the two leaders had urged their respective negotiators to intensify efforts to reach a mutually acceptable outcome on border issues, and Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kong Xuanyou said China is open to exploring various discussion platforms to reach "a fair and reasonable solution", including multi-party talks.

That both leaders agreed to expand trade cooperation and emphasised consensus over conflict showed that China and India wanted to move beyond last June's border stand-off in light of more pressing concerns such as a possible trade war, said experts.

"That the (Xi-Modi) summit could even take place is definitely linked in part to Trump's trade action against China. India is pursuing its 'Make in India' initiative so they are concerned the US might one day do the same to them," said Associate Professor Lin Minwang, an expert on Sino-Indian ties at Fudan University.

"There were extensive discussions, but the biggest outcome was that the summit went smoothly."

But professor Srikanth Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University said the agreement to reign in their respective militaries sent a strong message from the top leaders on how they wanted bilateral ties to develop.

"The term 'strategic guidance' suggests that they want the local military units to back-off, and alludes to a lot more civilian control of military actions at the border areas, which is possibly a new intervention," said Prof Srikanth, who specialises in Chinese studies.

"However, rhetoric apart, we have to see what are the actual steps that will be taken on the ground."