China hopes to rebuild trust, settle disputes

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at a Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Goa, India, in 2016. This week's meeting takes place after a year of fraught ties between the giant neighbours.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at a Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Goa, India, in 2016. This week's meeting takes place after a year of fraught ties between the giant neighbours.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold an informal two-day meeting kicking off tomorrow. ST's China and India Bureau Chiefs look at what's on the cards. Choice of informal setting aimed at facilitating freer exchange and reaching consensus

It is deliberate that Chinese President Xi Jinping and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi are meeting informally this week in the central city of Wuhan away from the capital of Beijing, according to the Chinese. This is so that the two leaders can have a "suitable atmosphere" in which to have "full and in-depth exchanges on issues of common concern", Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang said on Tuesday.

The aim of the meeting, said State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi this week, is to "cement strategic trust, deepen substantial cooperation, properly settle disputes and realise common development".

It is taking place after a year of fraught ties between the giant neighbours that saw India boycott the high-level Belt and Road Forum Mr Xi hosted in May last year. This is because the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build infrastructure linking China to Europe and Africa includes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that runs through territory claimed by India.

In June, a standoff between the neighbours' militaries took place in Doklam - or Donglang to the Chinese. It lasted 74 days and spilled over to other areas. China warned its citizens from travelling to India and India blocked a takeover of an Indian pharmaceutical company by a Chinese one. The whole episode has deepened mistrust between the two sides.

Rebuilding trust and mending fraught ties will be top of the agenda for the leaders when they meet tomorrow and on Saturday.

Chinese analysts agree that an informal meeting between the two leaders is a good idea. "It is unofficial so the atmosphere is more relaxed and allows for freer exchanges", especially if the leaders are not accompanied by large delegations, said researcher Lin Minwang of Fudan University.

Rebuilding trust and mending fraught ties will be top of the agenda for the leaders when they meet tomorrow and on Saturday. Chinese analysts agree that an informal meeting between the two leaders is a good idea. "It is unofficial so the atmosphere is more relaxed and allows for freer exchanges", especially if the leaders are not accompanied by large delegations, said researcher Lin Minwang of Fudan University.

India expert Qian Feng of Tsinghua University added that an informal meeting would be better for broad exchanges and reaching meaningful consensus on issues.

It is also not lost on observers that the two leaders are meeting ahead of another, more formal confab in June - the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao. That the two leaders choose to meet now just before another meeting shows the urgency and importance they attach to improving and developing bilateral ties, say Chinese experts. "There is a growing practical need and strategic requirement for the two sides to improve ties," said Mr Qian.

He noted that Mr Modi has wanted to build a new India with a friendly external environment and, internally, development and improvement of people's lives.

China wants to realise its two centenary goals domestically of becoming a moderately prosperous and modern society, and build a community of shared future for mankind, which it cannot do without India's participation.

"Whether it's developing a friendly peripheral environment or developing the economy or realising the nation's rise or rejuvenation, both sides feel more and more that they cannot do without the support of good relations between them," he added.

The key issue is the serious lack of strategic trust between the two sides, noted Mr Qian.

Through exchanges such as the upcoming summit and through "revealing each other's real intentions", the two sides can reduce their trust deficit, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'China hopes to rebuild trust, settle disputes'. Print Edition | Subscribe