India, China step up engagement

Modi-Xi summit is set to follow two high-level ministerial meetings

Published - March 06, 2018 12:30 am IST - NEW DELHI/BEIJING

 Looking ahead: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen.

Looking ahead: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen.

India and China are seeking to step up the pace in improving ties, with two high-level ministerial meetings this month leading to a summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and a slew of engagements through the year, officials in Delhi and Beijing confirmed to The Hindu .

“The leaders had decided during their [post-Doklam] Xiamen meeting in August last year that they must heighten the frequency and level of meetings, and we hope to see many more engagements in 2018 than before,” a senior diplomat told The Hindu.

He referred to 2017 as a “difficult year” for ties, with the 73-day Doklam standoff and differences over Masood Azhar and the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership raising temperatures.

Official olive branch

In signs that the two sides are also setting the stage for more harmonious dealings ahead, China agreed to Pakistan’s nomination to the FATF grey list on terror finance last month, while New Delhi has reportedly asked officials to be careful of China’s sensitivities.

Sources said the Defence Ministry had put off its Institute of Defence Strategic Analysis (IDSA) Asian Security Conference scheduled for March 6 to 8 ,which was expected to take a more hawkish line on Chinese security policy and the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). “It appears India doesn’t want hard opinions on China aired from the government’s most prominent defence think-tank,” a source privy to the decision said.

Later this month, the government will host Guo Yezhou, Vice- Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), a key figure in the party overseeing foreign policy formulation.

The dates of Mr. Guo’s visit, who will be part of a high- level delegation, have not been confirmed yet, primarily because of the ongoing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, which will continue till March 20.

Trump’s trade threat

Meanwhile, Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan or his deputy are expected to visit for talks with Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu aimed at improving trade imbalances.

Officials hope they will attend an informal ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) organised by the Commerce Ministry on March 19 and 20.

The WTO ministerial meeting is being seen as a significant platform of countries worried by the U.S.’s tough position on tariffs and President Donald Trump’s threats of a “trade war”, even as he called the WTO a “disaster for America”.

The next important engagement will be the India-China strategic economic dialogue, held between officials of the NITI Aayog and China’s top planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). “This is a highly important dialogue where the nuts and bolts of specific projects in five different areas will be discussed threadbare,” a diplomatic source said.

Five working groups will hold detailed discussions on infrastructure, energy, hi-technology, investments and resource conservation.

Mr. Modi is expected to meet President Xi in June at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao.

But at least two officials did not rule out the possibility of an “informal summit” before that.

All eyes are also on India’s participation at the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) meeting in Beijing from April 8 to 11, which is China’s equivalent of the World Economic Forum. In November, India has agreed in principle to participate in the high-profile import exhibition in Shanghai, despite reservations about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

(With Kallol Bhattacherjee)

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