Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Chinese province of Wuhan on an informal Summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping has gathered attention of international watchdogs. The Summit is significant as it is set against the two consecutive years of the upheaval of friction over a spate of irritants ranging from Doklam stand-off, the Indian bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Belt and Road Initiative of China. The two Asian neighbours saw their relations fall to the ebb till the apparent thaw reached by two high-profile visits by Chinese delegates comprising the Foreign Minister and the State Councilor, Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi respectively.
The Indian government has also made significant strides since February this year, by cancelling the events marking the 60 years of exile of Dalai Lama in Delhi. Indian Foreign Secretary categorically stated that the step is in consideration of the plummeting relation with China and thus the situation warrants no urgent need for any Indian leader or official to be a part of the celebrations of Tibetan government in exile. The information was however conveyed to China in advance and still, there were no reciprocal steps taken by the Chinese side till date.
The informal Summit is a bold decision by Prime Minister Modi against the backdrop of current ties and also as he was already scheduled to visit China in June for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit. The Wuhan Summit does not carry any fixed agenda but covers conversations about political and economic conditions at home, various regional headways and international issues like US-China trade war. Thus, Wuhan will not be conclusive in terms of anything concrete but holds significance for the security of the region and stability in China-India relations.
After the 73 days long intense stand-off at the borders on Bhutan-Doklam plateau region in 2017, there have been no concrete steps by China to improve relations and lessen the unease of Indian side. China has in fact intensified its military presence in Doklam area and other parts of the Sino-Indian border. Furthermore, China did not hesitate to construct a road and two military posts in the to the north of Siachen Glacier and in the Shaksgam Valley. Latter has been another irritant in Sino-Indian ties ever since Pakistan ceded the area to China in 1963-a Deal which has never been accepted by Indian side which has always considered the Valley as an inalienable part of Jammu and Kashmir. The valley however lied in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The latter step was seen as a provocative action by Chinese.
There is a widespread belief in China that the Wuhan Summit was the result of an internal realization by Indian side about the mistake it committed by developing Indo-Pacific ties which cast a shadow on its relation with China. Chinese consider an air of distrust between the two Asian neighbours as the primary reason for friction in bilateral ties. India however contrary to China’s perception did not bend to the Dragon’s wishes and maintained clear stance about the seriousness of its territorial integrity. India has always expressed reservations about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and has stated that all international initiatives must be in line with the global law.
The recent Summit is viewed as a reset in relations as the joint statement issued by both the leaders focused on enhancing efforts to build synergies by already present mechanisms. The statement further added that both the nations should carefully handle the areas of concern by dialogue with mutual respect for sensitivities, concerns and aspirations of another side.
The Summit was significant in the wake of the escalating tensions triggered at Doklam and peaked by Indian refusal to participate in the Conference on China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The flame was further fanned by blocking Indian entry into NSG by China on the pretext that India has not signed the NPT. Beijing also refused to support Indian side to label Pakistani militant Maulana Masood Azhar as a terrorist. China has also been irked by Indian shelter to exiled Tibetan leader Dalai Lama and Indian growing dearness to the US. Latter was especially ignited when India became part of the quadrilateral talks between US, Japan and Australia in Indo-Pacific. Thus, against the backdrop of such high staked irritants, the Summit holds great significance and relevance.
Both sides thus agreed for a robust bilateral relationship and respect for each other’s sensitivities in addition to building a pluralist economic order globally. The widening trade gap between the two nations tilted in China’s favour was also addressed.
Thus, the whole exercise was significant not because of the future outcomes but because it happened despite the recent past. So, the general stabilization of ties is the only outcome which has been gained significance due to the absence of any other concrete step.