China, India agree to keep border peace

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Indian PM Narendra Modi at Wuhan's East Lake. The two leaders issued "strategic guidance to their respective militaries" to strengthen communication and build trust, and both sides agreed to handle differences with m
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Indian PM Narendra Modi at Wuhan's East Lake. The two leaders 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.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

China and India have agreed to strengthen communication between their militaries and keep the peace along their shared borders, signalling a successful reset in relations following a tense border stand-off 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 yesterday at the close of an informal two-day meeting between the two leaders in Wuhan, 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 informal two-day 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.

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

Bilateral ties nosedived during a 74-day stand-off between the two countries' militaries in an area high in the Himalayas - known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China - that is claimed by both Bhutan and China but strategically important to India.

The incident deepened strategic mistrust between the two giant neighbours, which were already saddled with simmering disputes along their 4,000km-long 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 the 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 (US President Donald) Trump's trade action against China. India is pursuing its 'Make in India' initiative, so it is concerned the US might one day do the same to it," said Associate Professor Lin Minwang, an expert on Sino-Indian ties at Fudan University.

But Professor Srikanth Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University said the agreement to rein 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline 'China, India agree to keep border peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe