The Wuhan summit signaled a well-timed and much needed effort to restore faith and stability in relations between two Asian giants. Key takeaways from the India-China summit:
Abhishek Pratap Singh
The two day visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the historic city of Wuhan in China has been able to reflect on ‘broader understanding’ between both sides on how to take forward bilateral ties. The bilateral relations have to face certain levels of frictions in the last year given ‘difference of opinion’ on range of issues. Moreover, the Doklam standoff at the border was no less an example of ‘low point’ in India-China relations, also making a point that ‘balance of power’ on the border was no longer what had prevailed a decade before. Give the context of bilateral relations; the Wuhan summit signaled a well-timed and much needed effort to restore faith and stability in relations between two Asian giants.
As the developments suggested the Wuhan summit reflected a more sincere desire for ‘stability and rapprochement’ in bilateral relations from both the leadership. Earlier too, both the leaders had reiterated in their meetings at Astana and Xiamen that differences between both not be allowed to become dispute.
In recent months, good number of ‘high-level visits’ has taken place between both the countries. In December 2017 foreign ministers of both the countries met in New Delhi. Later on Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale visited China, and followed by the visit of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi to India. In early March, Indian national security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval too visited China. Much recently the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Ministerial summit and subsequently the visit of Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman to China are took place. In the backdrop of ‘Wuhan summit’, all these high level engagements between both were reflection of desire and urgency to rebuild ties.
While the official line since the beginning had played down the possibility of any ‘specific outcome or breakthrough’ from the Modi-Xi informal summit in Wuhan, the press briefing by the Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale do suggested some significant outcomes.
Firstly, from the Indian perspective the border dispute between both remains a key concern for bilateral relations. During the earlier visit of President Xi Jinping to India in September 2014; PM Modi in the joint press conference has reiterated the importance of maintaining ‘peace and tranquillity’ at border as essential to realise the enormous potential in our relations. On this front, both the sides reiterated to issue “strategic guidance” to their militaries to adopt ‘strategic restraint’ so that the spirit of the Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 was restored. The decision to issue "strategic guidance" to the respective militaries leaps out as a significant development.
Secondly, both the countries in principle, agreed to develop a ‘joint economic project’ in a third nation ie. Afghanistan. Adding to this development is the significance of age-old civilizational ties between India and Afghanistan, also when India’s role in building Afghans strategic and security interests has been recognised globally. In a speech last year, Afghanistan's ambassador to India Shaida Abdali had touched upon India's pivotal role in stabilising Afghanistan, which includes military training, study scholarships, roadways construction and electricity development. It will certainly predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs in future.
Thirdly, the visit also was a reflection of ‘good personal bonhomie’ between PM Modi and President Xi. Modi’s interaction with China goes back to his pracharak days when he has undertaken a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar along with a delegation. Later on as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he thrice visited China making impressive engagements with the Chinese business community and leadership allowing inroads for Chinese investment in the state. As President Xi pointed to Modi that no Chinese president has ever accorded reception to a visiting Head of State outside Beijing, and “I did it twice for you”, it showed a special kind of ‘personal diplomacy’ and more familiar interaction between both. There were reports noting that Xi had personally taken care of ‘minor details’ to play a good and friendly host. Having met for more than 10 times on different occasion in last many years, the Wuhan summit showed a comfort level of personal bonding between both the leadership.
Impressively, PM Modi underscored the importance of people-to-people contact between India and China by coining the idea of ‘STRENGTH’, which makes for spirituality; tradition, trade and technology; relationship; entertainment; nature conservation; games; tourism and health.
On the global front to widen the scope of their international cooperation, the two leaders also identified digital empowerment, global healthcare, combating disease, disaster risk and mitigation besides climate change as areas where the two could work in collaboration. In his address, Xi said, "China and India are both important engines for global growth and we are central pillars for promoting a multi-polar and globalised world. A good Sino-India relationship is an important and positive factor for maintaining peace and stability in the world." Most importantly, the summit also endorsed the idea that both the sides should bear in mind the need to “respect each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations.”
In any case, the Wuhan summit must not be seen as an end in itself rather holds significance for the future of India-China relations. Nor the diplomatic exercise like this can be judged on the basis of any ‘zero sum game’ mode. The complex and competing nature of India-China relations, with certain levels of ‘trust deficit’ is bound to face minor aberrations on various regional and geo-political issues. However, the success of this summit will remain tied to how much the agreed ‘strategic guidance’ between both is internalised by their domestic agencies. Nevertheless, the constant engagement between the leadership is a no lesser expression of ‘greater understanding’ and concurrence of interests from both sides.
(The writer holds PhD from East Asian Studies, JNU and teaches at University of Delhi)