India is sending Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh to Beijing to attend the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ meeting on June 18 and 19, marking a thaw in its strained relationship with China. This comes a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to lower the temperature in Astana between the two countries.
Top government sources told The Indian Express this was an attempt to put the relations “back on track” after the Chinese side took strong exception to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in April.
Two months ago, Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi did not come for the Russia-India-China trilateral meeting of foreign ministers in New Delhi, reportedly over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal. The meeting was to be hosted by External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj but there is a possibility that a similar ministers’ meeting may take place in Beijing that would be attended by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Wang and Singh.
Although it was Swaraj’s turn to go to Beijing, Singh is shouldering the responsibility on her behalf as she is health-wise not in a position to travel overseas.
The decision to send Singh to China comes in the backdrop of the “very positive and cordial” meeting between Modi and Xi, which took place in Astana at the Beijing Palace Hotel. The sources pointed out that Modi had taken a conciliatory approach towards the Chinese President by agreeing to the meeting in the Chinese leader’s hotel and not getting bogged down by protocol issues.
The attempt to relax the strain was evident in the 40-minute meeting last week and was markedly different from the posturing at their last meeting in Goa, where they had met on the margins of the BRICS summit when all the hot-button issues were raised, ranging from NSG to Masood Azhar.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar had said after the meeting in Astana, “There was also an understanding that where we have differences, differences should not become disputes. In fact, if handled well, can even become an opportunity.”
Xi introduced a lighter note into the discussion by praising the Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal that has become popular in China.
However, the sources cautioned against “excessive optimism” since the hot-button issues are still there and much work needs to be done to resolve the issues concerning India’s NSG membership, Masood Azhar’s listing at the UN as an international terrorist, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor infringing on India’s sovereignty.