There is little doubt that the strategic guidance which emerged from the first India-China informal summit at Wuhan last year was a key factor in putting bilateral relations on an even keel, especially after the border stand-off at Doklam in 2017. As we head into the second informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, it is equally obvious that the relationship has been buffeted by a string of irritants, especially after China’s close ally, Pakistan, was angered by India’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. China believed the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh would have a bearing on its boundary dispute with India, but this notion has been dispelled by New Delhi. India has been irked by calls by the Chinese leadership that urged against any unilateral actions that altered the status quo in the region, which were perceived by many as another instance of Beijing opting to side, yet again, with Islamabad.
In that sense, the second informal summit at a seaside resort will give Mr Modi and Mr Xi enough time for one-on-one conversations on where they would like to take the bilateral relationship in the coming years. There is no doubt that India and China have common concerns, including body blows dealt by the unilateral actions of the Donald Trump administration to global arrangements for trade and climate change. There is also the desire by both sides to boost commerce. India expects China to do more to address a huge deficit of more than $50 billion. The two leaders are expected to focus on additional confidence-building measures that could strengthen peace and tranquillity on the borders and ensure there is no repeat of Doklam. The two sides have all the building blocks to look at the bigger picture.
However, it has not gone unnoticed in Delhi that Mr Xi will arrive in India hours after hosting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is expected to focus on getting China’s support on the Kashmir issue. It will be unfortunate if China opts to look at its relationship with India through the prism of Pakistan, because that will only prevent the India-China relationship from achieving its full potential.
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