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Informal Summit Between PM Modi and President Xi Caps Off India-China "Reset"

Aman Thakker, Newsletter

Prime Minister Modi flew to Wuhan, China on Friday for an “informal summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The summit is the culmination in the ongoing efforts by India to “reset” relations with China, particularly after a tense year in the relationship, featuring a 72-day long standoff in the Doklam plateau.

The “informal” nature of the summit was widely interpreted as a “bold move” in India on the part of PM Modi. Indeed, both sides agreed that the summit would maximize time between the leaders of both countries, and would not issue any joint statement or communiqué after the talks. PM Modi also announced that the summit would be an opportunity for India and China to “exchange views on a range of issues of bilateral and global importance.. particularly in the context of current and future international situation,” and that the leaders would “review the developments in India-China relations from a strategic and long-term perspective.”

Key takeaway from the Summit included:

An agreement to launch a “joint economic project” in Afghanistan. Details on what exactly this project would include are still forthcoming, however.

Issuance of a new "strategic guidance" to the militaries of both countries to  “maintain peace and tranquility in the border”

decision by both countries to improve their use of existing “information-sharing mechanisms,” which could improve “gaps in communication” that contributed to the Doklam standoff last year.

An invitation by Prime Minister Modi to President Xi to visit India next year for a similar “informal summit.”

Prime Minister Modi and President Xi in Wuhan, China

Words of Caution from the Experts:

Tanvi Madan notes the summit’s role in “reset the terms of engagement, but moving from a tactical to a major strategic reset will require a lot more, including a significant change in Chinese and Indian perceptions of themselves and their role in the world, and of each other.”

Aparna Pande argues “Whatever the outcome of the summit, however, Modi should be wary of such rosy promises: As Japan has already learned the hard way, a reset in relations with China at this stage is likely to benefit China far more than its counterparts.”

Suhasini Haider writes “As Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi try to seek a better future for India-China relations, they should keep in mind Kennedy’s famous words, after the Khrushchev visit to the U.S.: “It is far better that we meet at the summit than at the brink.But let us remember that assurances of future talks are not assurances of future success or agreement.”

Insight: I’ve always tended to agree with the scholars who’ve expressed caution above, particularly because the disagreements at the heart of the India-China relationship (India’s opposition to OBOR, differences over maritime security, the border, Chinese opposition to the designation of Masood Azhar as a terrorist) are far too complex to be overcome by a “reset.” They require a fundamental shift in the way that the two countries engage with each other, particularly by outlining the norms of how the two countries will address disagreements while still cooperating on issues where there are convergence. I have a forthcoming article for The Diplomat this week on this topic that I’d be happy to share with those interested in digging into this more

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