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Modi-Xi Meeting at Mamallapuram – A Brief Background You Should Know

Modi-Xi meeting at Mamallapuram

“China and its people have a special place in my heart. I admire their hard working, disciplined and resilient nature and above all, their sense of history. Our cultural bonds are very strong and deep-rooted. Over the years, our relations have further strengthened. We are committed to making them still better, fruitful and productive” – CM Modi at Beijing 9 Nov 2011

India and China have unique characteristics. Both the countries have population of more than 1 billion, cultures rooted in ancient civilizations, growing aspirations. When more than 50% of the world’s economy will be in Asia – mainly dealing with India, Japan, China and ASEAN – both the countries will have pivotal role to play in 21st century rightly called as ‘Asian century’. Both countries will be key global powers in next two decades, albeit following different pace and timeline.  So, it becomes important for the leaders of the both countries – PM Modi and President Xi Jinping – to have regular conversations to encourage equilibrium.

Brief timeline of major meetings of both leaders
  • Ahmedabad, 17-19 September 2014: Both leaders took a walk along Sabarmati Riverfront in home state of PM Modi emphasising personal connection rather than formalities. It was perhaps the first time Indian PM received a high-profile head of state outside New Delhi. They visited Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram. China agreed to invest $20 billion in Indian infrastructure.
  • Xian, 14-15 May 2015: PM Modi met President Xi in his hometown. PM Modi visited the Terracotta Warriors Museum. Wide ranging discussions on terrorism and other issues took place.
  • In 2016 both leaders met on sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS summits. Discussions were carried out in the backdrop of Chinese opposition to NSG membership to India, its veto against the ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar and the passing of planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through PoK.
  • Astana, Kazakhstan, 9 June 2017: Both leaders interacted on sidelines of SCO summit. Both countries agreed, in what is also known as “Astana consensus”, that differences should not be allowed to become disputes. India formally joined SCO.
  • Wuhan, 26-28 April 2018: Meeting was held post Doklam standoff caused due to ‘salami slicing strategy’ (the gradual grabbing of land) by China. It was an informal meeting between two strong leaders with no agreed agenda and freewheeling conversations. These were not negotiation sessions. It gave impetus to cultural relations and people-to-people contact. Wuhan spirit changed the chemistry between the two nations.
Wuhan spirit

The positive direction of India-China relationship opened up a new world of convergence. MoUs have been signed to organize more than 100 activities to further strengthen the people-to-people contact. It was agreed to enhance cooperation in traditional medicine where both countries have rich knowledge accumulated over centuries. Promoting exchanges between national sports associations, sportspersons, and youth for strengthening cooperation on international sports events was agreed upon too. Recognition of this bottom-up cultural approach is underlined by the facts that the Chinese government has shown willingness to expand Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.

Both the countries have been finding convergence of interests in multi-lateral affairs (e.g. WTO), global governance, climate change. USA with trade central to its foreign policy has become more demanding than it used to be. It has led to growing trade frictions between USA and other countries especially China and sometimes, India.

In this context, both countries with strong leaders having strategic vision for the destiny of their country will be meeting in second edition of informal summit at Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram) showing the significance both sides attach to the bottom-up approach. There are histories, civilizations and traditions on which both leaders are building own nations.

Significance of Mamallapuram
  • The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The monuments were founded by Pallava dynasty in 7th and 8th
  • King Narasimhavarman II of Pallava dynasty reigned in early 8th He exchanged ambassadors with China and signed a strategic pact on security. He was declared as the general of South China against Tibet which posed threat to China at that time.
  • Bodhidharma, an icon for Buddhists in China and South East Asia, was an Indian Buddhist monk. He was the third prince of a Pallava king and founder of the Chan Buddhism in China, also known as Zen in Japan.
  • During Pallava era, Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Kanchipuram in 640 AD and also must have visited Mamallapuram.
  • Mamallapuram was thriving trade centre evident from ancient Chinese, Persian, and Roman coins found.
Irritants in Bilateral Relations

However, in the backdrop of repealing provisions of Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, China had called for an informal meeting of UNSC, supporting Pakistan. It misread the decision of Modi government to make Ladakh a union territory and the Line of Actual Control had not changed. But as the meeting approached, it was reported that China changed its stance on Kashmir stating that it is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. These moves are to be read against the agreed position that future of the ties will depend on the mutual sensitivity to each other’s “core concerns” and test of the Wuhan spirit for rapprochement. Apart from these there have been concerns about growing trade deficit with China given its state policies of unfair restricted market access rather than comparative advantages.

Way Forward

The present world is more competitive, complex and individualistic. Moreover, international politics by nature is a competitive process but need not be a zero sum game. Even in absolute terms both countries are with growing ambitions, capabilities and aspirations. It would be better off if there is a rise of Asia rather than just of China or India. Both India and China are old civilizational states reclaiming their place in history. Certainly, the upcoming meeting in ancient city of Mamallapuram is expected to strengthen the trust between two Asian giants, to have a conversation to encourage equilibrium.