There should not be high expectations from the informal summit between PM Modi and President Xi in the Wuhan on the banks of Yangtze as India has already bowed to please regional power China by cancelling the events of Dalai Lama in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi jinping are likely to discuss US President Donald Trump’s “protectionist” trade policy, changes in the world order, bilateral issues including China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
India and China have been competing for political, economic and strategic influence in the region.
Moreover, Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is desperately searching for a new slogan to win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, is eager to enter into elite club of 48-member NSG Nuclear Suppliers Group and China remains biggest obstacle as it has been opposing India’s bid primarily on the grounds that Delhi is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
China has knitted close ties with countries in India’s neighbourhood and invested billions of dollars in the economies of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. In Addition, Beijing has been pursuing territorial and maritime claims.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who invited the leaders of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional cooperation) countries and Mauritius to attend his swearing-in ceremony to convey the message that he is the leader of this region and foreign policy remains his top priority. But, alas, his foreign policy has failed so miserably that China, not only influences this region but also through One Belt, One Road project, China has inarguably increased its global influence, social and cultural cooperation.
Xi Jinping’s ambitious Silk Road Economic Belt has three routes connecting China to Europe (via Central Asia), the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean (through West Asia), and South Asia.
Beijing and New Delhi are rivals and are already engaged in territorial disputes and the India-China border covering the 3488 KM-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) is disputed between the two sides and notably, Beijing claims Arunachal Pradesh to be the part of its southern Tibet. The territory, a key focus of a 1962 war fought between the Asian giants.
Another hotly contested territory by both countries is Aksai Chin, which New Delhi considers part of its Jammu and Kashmir state while China believes the zone belongs to its Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Talks to resolve the boundary dispute have been stalled but standoffs between the Indian forces and the Chinese PLA has emerged as a common phenomena. China has taken the 72-day military confrontation in 2017 on the Doklam plateau at the trijunction of Bhutan, India and China seriously and President Xi Jinping vowed to protect “every inch” of his country’s territory in a nationalistic speech at the annual National People’s Congress in which he claims that his nation was ready to “fight bloody battles” against its enemies.
On the contrary, the official Chinese media commented, “The Modi-Xi Jinping Wuhan summit could be as significant as the one between former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and then leader of China Deng Xiaoping in 1988, the meeting can be as significant as the one in 1988… and will set the course for bilateral ties.”
Modi government had criticised President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative but how Xi is going to convince Modi for a India-Nepal-China economic corridor. China has proposed a India-Nepal-China economic corridor with multi-dimensional connectivity through the Himalayas after Nepalese Foreign Minister held talks with his Chinese counterpart.
Ahead of Xi-Modi summit on April 27-28, Chinese officials have made enough positive signals : promised to resume the Kailash Mansarovar yatra through the Nathu La route for pilgrims and data sharing on rivers such as Brahmaputra and Sutlej which originate in China and flow into India and to consider India’s major concerns seriously.
Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during her address at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting also attended by Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, raised the issue of global terrorism and protectionism.
Terrorism is an enemy of the basic human rights: of life, peace and prosperity, the criminal terrorist militias are not impeded by borders as they seek to destroy the architecture of international stability and build walls of fear in societies that believe in pluralism, Sushma said.
“We strongly believe that our fight against terrorism should not only seek to eliminate terrorists but should also identify and take strong measures against States that encourage, support and finance terrorism and provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups without mentioning any country”, Sushma said.
It is pertinent to mention that Delhi has also embraced the Trump Administration’s concept of Indo-Pacific and revived the quadrilateral security dialogue with Washington, Tokyo and Canberra.
While North Korean leader Kim Jong un’s friendly meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing has brought China into a central position by reinserting into the diplomatic negotiations.
India is trying to reset relations with Beijing but China’srise as Asian great power status and influence in the region has diminished India’s geographical advantage.
While rolling out its “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy at the US-India-Japan trilateral dialogue, US official Alex Wong said “it is in the US’ interest that India plays a more weighty role in the region.”
US President Donald Trump initiated US-China trade war which has wider implications as US Department of Commerce banned American companies from selling components to state-owned Chinese phone maker ZTE for a period of seven years.
India, which is an ally of US and after it signed an agreement on sharing military logistics (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), it will be interesting to watch the outcome of Modi-Xi summit but Prime Minister should be cautious to safeguard national interests as it should not give ammunition to the Opposition that may attack the BJP led NDA government for any wrong decision.