Xi, Modi hold informal talks aimed at mending relations

Priority of meeting likely a reset of ties after row over Kashmir, border tensions: Expert

MAHABALIPURAM (India) • Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in India yesterday for an "informal" seaside summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi aimed at mending relations between the historically prickly Asian giants after sharp words over Kashmir.

Mr Xi flew into the southern city of Chennai, from where Mr Modi was to take him on a tour of the nearby Shore Temple dating back to the seventh and eighth centuries, when regional kingdoms had direct ties with Chinese provinces.

This is the second "informal" meeting between the leaders after their interaction in Wuhan in April last year.

There is no set agenda, India's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Mr Xi and Mr Modi were expected to talk over a one-on-one dinner yesterday without their officials, who will be briefed later by the leaders, an Indian government official familiar with the programme told reporters in Chennai.

The two countries will issue separate statements today after another one-to-one conversation before delegation-level talks, the official said.

The priority of the meeting is likely to be a reset of ties beyond Kashmir and border tensions, said Dr Jiang Jingkui, director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at Peking University. "I expect the two leaders would negotiate in principle to address the difference and make adjustment."

China and its ally Pakistan have been angered by India's decision two months ago to revoke the special status for the part of Kashmir it controls, which was accompanied by a crackdown on dissent.

 
 

India said it is an internal matter aimed at developing the region and there was no room for a third country to be involved, after Mr Xi said he was watching the situation closely and assured Pakistan of Chinese support.

Trade, especially the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), is also expected to be a focus of the Xi-Modi talks.

India is under increasing pressure to decide whether it will be a part of the China-backed grouping that is seeking to conclude negotiations by November.

RCEP, which aims to create the world's largest trading bloc, is being seen as a champion of free trade.

Ahead of Mr Xi's arrival, the police detained the chief of the Tibetan Youth Congress, Mr Gonpo Dhondup, and 11 Tibetan students in several locations, including at the airport and a highway leading to the summit venue.

From India, Mr Xi heads on to Nepal for a state visit, a move that New Delhi will be watching closely.

China has made considerable inroads in Nepal, which is traditionally under India's sphere of influence in the region.

China and Nepal are expected to release a new blueprint for Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative which New Delhi has consistently criticised.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Xi, Modi hold informal talks aimed at mending relations'. Print Edition | Subscribe