Modi-Xi summit an attempt to gain an edge over each other

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 11, 2019 10:12 hrs
Xi Modi

A couple of weeks after world leaders gathered for the United Nations General Assembly, the leaders of the two most populous countries in the world will meet for an ‘Informal Summit’ at the ancient coastal town of Mamallapuram outside Chennai. As China confirmed the meeting, this would be the second such informal summit between Modi and Xi Jinping since they first met in April 2018 at Wuhan. The Times of India editorial sets the stage for what’s at stake –

The second informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping scheduled to begin this Friday at Mamallapuram has a sense of tension hanging over it. There is no denying that China today is the biggest strategic challenge for the Modi government. Beijing wants to be the central pillar of a new Asian order”.

Ahead of the summit, Chinese Envoy Sun Weidong, in an interview with The Hindu discussed the broader themes of the summit saying in part, “As the only two major developing countries with a population of over one billion and important representatives of emerging economies, China-India relations transcend the bilateral dimension and assume global and strategic significance”.

An informal summit is essentially an accessory to more formal annual summits such as the G20 and BRICS Summit for example. At the previous informal summit in Wuhan, the two countries discussed a broad range of issues and came at a crucial time. Sino-Indian relations weren’t at its best given the two-month long border stand-off at Doklam.

In the run up to the summit, Tami Nadu police arrested more than 2 dozen Tibetans and Tibetan activists including writer Tenzin Tsundue who was booked under Section 4 of The Foreigners Act (obstruction, intent to use violence and loitering). In nearby towns in Tamil Nadu, police arrested other Tibetans as well, most of whom worked in restaurants and cafes.

Diplomacy & Foreign Policy

This time, there are significant issues to be discussed, particularly in the realm of foreign policy and trade. Both India and China are dealing with domestic issues that have garnered global attention. India’s decision to revoke special status to Kashmir, followed by placing local leaders under house arrest has come under criticism from the international community for curbing human rights in the state.

Interestingly, China is also at the centre of global condemnation as the protests in Hong Kong continue as thousands have gathered on the streets for weeks demanding their right for democratic rule. The country held grand celebrations last week to mark 70 years of Chinese Communist Party rule.It has also been engaged in a trade war with the United States.

Jayadeva Ranade, President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, in a column for The Tribune writes on the backdrop of troubles for Xi Jinping going into the summit -

Dissatisfaction with Xi Jinping and his policies is spreading inside China. The country’s economy is shrinking and growth has slowed. The cost of living is rising.The US-China trade war has accentuated Xi Jinping’s problems and is a setback to China’s technology sector”.

Prior to the summit, Xi met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday. The two counties are natural allies though China’s official position regarding Kashmir is for it to be solved bilaterally. Recently, Beijing showed support for Pakistan at the UN on the issue of Kashmir.China also objected to military exercises called “Him Vijay” in Arunachal Pradesh, 100km from the Chinese boundary. Shishir Gupta, in a column for the Hindustan Times writes on why China’s allegiance to Pakistan is a roadblock for India – China ties –

Fact is that at the heart of India-China mistrust lies Beijing’s all-weather ally, Islamabad, with the middle kingdom backing Pakistan entirely on issues like cross-border terrorism, nuclear suppliers’ group, UN expansion, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Jammu and Kashmir.The success of this summit lies in whether President Xi can exorcise the ghost of Pakistan from Chinese perception of its bilateral engagement with India”.

Economy & Trade

With regards to the economy and trade, both countries have a lot to gain. China’s afore mentioned trade war with the United States has hampered it economy slightly. In some way, both India and China have a common concern in the United States’ more restrictive trade policy as India and the US failed to reach an agreement on trade during Modi’s recent visit. Domestically, India’s economy has hit some road blocks as the Ministry of Finance announced a slew of measure over the past few weeks to prevent a major economic slowdown.

At the same time of the Modi-Xi summit, the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) Ministerial is being held at Bangkok. The RECP puts pressure on India to reduce or eliminate tariffs on a significant portion of its traded products. China currently has a trade surplus with India of about $60 billion. The Business Line editorial lays out the stakes regarding trade for both countries ahead of the summit –

Trade and investment ties are bound to be a central aspect of bilateral exchanges, more so because the strategic differences are loaded with legacy problems. China, keen to offset the impact of its tariff war with US, would push for higher market access in India.In view of the recent corporate tax cuts and steps to ease doing business, India can become an attractive FDI destination”.

India remains on the fence when it comes to the RECP. A point of concern is entering into this agreement would allow China greater access to Indian markets but not vice versa. China also didn’t succeed in bringing India on board to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

This is likely to have an impact on Chinese Telecom equipment manufacturers for a 5G rollout. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at last week’s World Economic Forum event in Delhi reiterated India’s refusal to join the initiative. Manish Dabhade in a column for the Economic Times writes on why the summit is important despite significant differences –

India and China both should see the Mamallapuram Summit as a historic, transformative diplomatic opportunity to move beyond the management of their relationship to “actively reshaping” their civilzational future”.

More columns by Varun Sukumar