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Posted at: Oct 11, 2019, 7:00 AM; last updated: Oct 11, 2019, 2:00 PM (IST)MAMALLAPURAM INFORMAL SUMMIT

Against Kashmir backdrop, Modi-Xi talks begin today

Against Kashmir backdrop, Modi-Xi talks begin today
Students wear masks of China's President Xi Jinping at a school in Chennai on October 10, 2019. Reuters

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

Mamallapuram, October 10

A heavy security blanket has descended on this quiet port town ahead of the two-day informal summit beginning Friday between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The meeting was supposed to further improve the chemistry between the two leaders and was agreed upon at the first informal summit at Wuhan in 2018 where Modi and Xi conversed for 10 hours over two days.

But neither the symbolism proved propitious nor the two sides turn a new corner that the confabulations at Wuhan had promised. Symbolically, Xi sandwiched his India visit between Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan’s hasty trip to Beijing, at China’s express invitation, and a touchdown in Kathmandu on leaving India on Saturday afternoon after an improvised pre-noon lunch with PM Modi. The bitterness between the two countries over Jammu and Kashmir seemed to have receded when a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson omitted “UNSC resolution and the UN Charter” while advising India and Pakistan to discuss the J&K discord among themselves.

But this sense of good cheer dissipated within 24 hours after a China-Pakistan joint statement brought back the formulation. This was followed by India reacting sharply to a statement by the Chinese envoy in Pakistan on Kashmir.

Despite the divergence on Kashmir, both sides have made it clear they will not allow their bilateral ties to be circumscribed by this factor alone. Government sources say terrorism, trade and border management will dominate discussions between both leaders.

In terms of tangibles, the two leaders are likely to green light the addition of more confidence building measures (CBMs) to manage the border peacefully. “Situation can be handled by technologies that were not available earlier. We certainly need more CBMs and this meeting will be part of this,” said government sources.

Another area up for discussions will be the Indo-Pacific where China and India appear ranged on opposite sides. “The Prime Minister has said China is an important part of the Indo-Pacific. This will be among the subjects covered,” said the sources while admitting to time constraints that may prevent several topics from being discussed in depth.

India has been encouraged by China’s attitude to its exports but feels much ground remains to be covered before its huge trade deficit is pared to reasonable level. At the same time, government sources caution against expectations of declaratory statements or agreements after the visit since this is not how informal summits are structured.

However, with Beijing choosing to take its time in confirming the visit and India standing its ground on Kashmir, it will be a challenge for both leaders to build substantially at Mamallapuram the opening provided by the Xi-Modi informal exchanges in Wuhan.

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