The private dinner between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping that capped the first day of the India-China informal summit on Friday lasted more than double the scheduled duration, an indication that both sides were making efforts to work out differences that have recently strained ties.
Modi welcomed Xi after he drove in a motorcade to this seaside resort at about 5pm and took the Chinese leader around several monuments at a 1,400-year-old temple complex. They watched a cultural programme before going into the dinner at the Shore Temple complex, where the leaders were seated at a separate table with interpreters while their aides sat at a different location.
The dinner, which began at 7pm, was expected to last about an hour but ended well past 9:30pm, suggesting that the two leaders held substantive discussions despite the strain in the bilateral relationship because of China’s strong support to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue over the past few weeks.
Briefing the media after the two leaders concluded their discussions on the first day of the summit, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said: “Discussions were very open and cordial. The two leaders had detailed discussions on their respective national visions… President Xi Jinping, while acknowledging that the Prime Minister had got a [big] mandate, said he was looking forward to working very closely with the Prime Minister on all issues.”
“They held discussions on trade-related issues… on how to enhance trade volume and trade value. This included the issue of trade deficit that exists,” he added.
Even before the dinner, Modi and Xi had a conversation, with only their translators present, at the Pancha Ratha, a monument with five chariots hewn out of solid rock, that lasted almost 15 minutes. They continued their conversation as they strolled near the Shore Temple, the last of the monuments they visited at Mamallapuram.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted late on Friday that the leaders had a “highly productive day” that concluded with a “pleasant conversation over a long dinner”.
Modi and Xi “continued their exchange of views on deepening the India-China partnership” during the cultural performance and the dinner, he said. Kumar said in an earlier tweet that the “free flowing nature of the Informal Summit at the UNESCO World Heritage site will continue and deepen contacts at the highest level and guide the future trajectory of (the) India-China relationship”.
Gokhale said the two leaders discussed the issue of radicalisation. “Radicalisation was a matter of concern to both and both will work together to see that radicalisation and terrorism did not affect the fabric of our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies,” he said. The foreign secretary did not mention that the leaders spoke about the Kashmir issue, which India has maintained is an internal matter.
Both sides are expected to issue separate statements on Saturday, but people familiar with the matter said they were coordinating closely on what the final texts would say.
Modi, who reached Tamil Nadu a few hours before Xi, took a helicopter to Mamallapuram. Modi tweeted his welcome in three languages, English, Tamil and Mandarin: “It is gladdening that Tamil Nadu will host President Xi Jinping. May this Informal Summit further strengthen ties between India and China.”
Modi and Xi’s first informal summit in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year had helped put bilateral relations on an even keel after the 73-day face-off between troops of the two countries at Doklam in 2017, and Indian officials were hopeful that the second summit would help the two leaders clear the air after a testy exchange on the Kashmir issue had clouded the atmosphere ahead of the Mamallapuram meeting.
Xi travelled to India after hosting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, whom he told that China was closely following the Kashmir issue and that Beijing would back Islamabad on protecting its core interests.
New Delhi shot back by saying that China was aware of India’s position that Kashmir is an integral part of the country.
The exchange in the run up to the summit triggered speculation about how much the Kashmir issue could linger like a dark cloud over the unstructured interactions in Mamallapuram, but people familiar with developments said both sides were looking to the summit to produce “some new directions from the top” that will build on the strategic guidance that flowed from the Wuhan summit.
“Both leaders like the unstructured format of the informal summit and both sides are aware there is a lot riding on this relationship,” said an official who asked not to be named.
Despite the recent differences between the two sides, the people said the overall relations had matured and evolved since Wuhan, and this had been reflected in the decision to hold the summit as scheduled despite speculation about its fate in recent weeks.
The people cited above had said the two leaders were expected to spend a total of about six hours together over Friday and Saturday but the duration of their interactions on the first day had exceeded the scheduled timings. On Saturday, Modi and Xi will have another one-on-one meeting at the Fisherman’s Cove, about 25km from the temple complex where they met on Friday. They will then hold delegation-level talks before having another opportunity to talk one-on-one at a lunch to be hosted by Modi.
Oct 12, 2019 00:21 IST