Modi to fly to China soon to ‘reset’ bilateral ties

Ajit Doval’s unannounced visit to Shanghai this week seen as crucial preparation; Prime Minister may go to another city

April 14, 2018 10:19 pm | Updated April 15, 2018 07:44 am IST - NEW DELHI

Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping sitting by the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad, during the Chinese President’s visit in 2014.

Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping sitting by the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad, during the Chinese President’s visit in 2014.

In an effort to repair India-China relations and take the engagement to the next level, officials are working on a bilateral visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China within the next few weeks, official sources from Delhi and Beijing have confirmed to The Hindu .

Officials will not confirm the venue for the visit, which will come ahead of the Prime Minister’s trip to Qingdao for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in June. Wuhan and Kunming are possible options, as they are closer than Beijing from Delhi.

Setting the stage

While reports of a bilateral visit by the Prime Minister to “reset” ties between the two countries have been circulating for some weeks, speculation grew about its timing after National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval made an unannounced visit to Shanghai on Thursday and Friday and met Politburo member and Special Representative Yang Jiechi.

The NSA’s sudden visit appeared to take the External Affairs Ministry off-guard as well. During a briefing on Thursday, after the NSA had left for China, the Ministry’s spokesperson said, “At this point of time, frankly, I have no information about the visit ... If a visit is taking place, we will let you know.”

A Ministry press release issued on Friday, however, said the NSA’s visit was “part of regular, high-level engagements between India and China” in which Mr. Doval and Mr. Yang discussed matters of “mutual interest”.

“The two sides agreed to maintain the pace of high-level exchanges to fully realise the potential of a closer development partnership between India and China,” the statement said.

An official, however, said Mr. Modi’s “visit is being worked on, and there maybe some announcement in the next week itself”.

High-level visits

Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that an “unofficial” or unscheduled bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping was first proposed at an informal meeting between Indian and Chinese officials on the sidelines of the Davos summit in January.

The NSA meeting comes ahead of visits by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to China on April 22 and 24, which is expected to be followed closely by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit from April 24. Ms. Swaraj and Ms. Sitharaman, who will be in Beijing to attend ministerial meetings for the SCO, are the first senior Ministers to visit China since Mr. Modi’s previous visit for the BRICS summit in Xiamen.

Ties between India and China hit a low over the 73-day Doklam stand-off, India’s opposition to the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other issues including the UN Security Council’s terror designation for Masood Azhar, and wrangling over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s visit to Beijing two months ago was seen to signal a possible reset in ties, especially after a letter dated February 22, on the eve of his visit — leaked from the government — quoted him as asking officials not to attend public rallies in Delhi organised by the Tibetan leadership. In the letter, Mr. Gokhale cited a “sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China” — words that fuelled reports of a major summit-level meeting in the offing.

When The Hindu contacted the Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Delhi for a comment on the proposed visit, neither officially denied nor confirmed the Prime Minister’s plans to visit China.

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