India proposes reply to Wuhan: An informal summit with China in Varanasi this Octoberhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-proposes-reply-to-wuhan-an-informal-summit-with-china-in-varanasi-this-october-5753515/

India proposes reply to Wuhan: An informal summit with China in Varanasi this October

The choice of Varanasi is because Modi wants to invite Xi to his parliamentary constituency, just like the Chinese President had hosted him in Xiamen for the BRICS summit where he had made a mark as a Communist Party of China office-bearer almost 30 years ago.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks on as Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan sit on a traditional swing on the Sabarmati River front in Ahmedabad. (Source: file/PTI)

India has proposed that the next informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping be held on October 11 in Varanasi, The Indian Express has learnt. The Chinese side is learnt to have conveyed that they are considering the proposal positively.

The first informal summit between the two leaders took place in Wuhan in Hubei province in China on April 27-28, 2018. The two leaders then spent two days at a lakeside guest house in Wuhan and held discussions for almost 10 hours.

Sources said that the Prime Minister wants to reciprocate the hospitality extended to him during the informal summit in Wuhan.

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China remains a priority

The Modi government saw the value of the Wuhan informal summit — no border stand-offs in a politically sensitive year. With another emphatic mandate for Modi, a possible meeting with Xi in Varanasi will be the third between the two leaders this year. But much groundwork will be needed after Bishkek for the informal summit to yield concrete outcomes.

The choice of Varanasi is because Modi wants to invite Xi to his parliamentary constituency, just like the Chinese President had hosted him in Xiamen for the BRICS summit where he had made a mark as a Communist Party of China office-bearer almost 30 years ago.

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Modi hosted him in his home state Gujarat’s capital Ahmedabad in September 2014 and Xi had reciprocated by hosting him in his home province Shaanxi’s capital, Xian in May 2015.

A preliminary request has been conveyed through diplomatic channels to ascertain the availability of President Xi during that time.

More detailed discussions are expected to take place when the two leaders meet in Kyrgyz Republic capital, Bishkek, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on June 13-14.

Sources told The Indian Express that Delhi and Beijing are working towards holding a structured bilateral meeting between Modi and Xi in Bishkek. “The two leaders are likely to have their first bilateral meeting in Bishkek. The timing for the meeting is being discussed,” a source said.

In June 2017, just before the Doklam incident rocked the relationship, the two leaders had met on the sidelines of SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The leaders had come up with the formulation that “differences should not become disputes” at that meeting.

After the Doklam border stand-off was resolved in August 2017, just before the BRICS summit in Xiamen in China in September 2017, the Astana consensus evolved in June 2017 was recalled.

The two sides had then discussed the possibility of the informal summit, the idea for which had been first floated in Astana itself. Over the next seven months, the two sides had worked on holding the informal summit in Wuhan in April. South Block’s assessment is that the understandings reached during the Wuhan summit — a new template for the leaders of the two countries to have a long meeting – have worked well so far.

After the Wuhan summit, the armed forces of the two sides were given “strategic guidance” by the two leaders, and 2018 and 2019 have remained peaceful – without any major incident along the Line of Actual Control.

With China agreeing to lift the technical hold on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, the optics of engaging with Beijing has considerably improved. Sources said that Beijing — in a single stroke, by lifting the hold on Azhar’s listing as global terrorist under the UNSC 1267 — has created more political space for engagement between the two sides.

Many caution that the relationship is prone to ups and downs as was visible during Xi’s Gujarat visit in September 2014 — when Modi had hosted him and First Lady Peng Liyuan on the banks of Sabarmati river — during which there was an ongoing stand-off at the border in Chumar.

Also, the issue of how India will respond to the Belt and Road Initiative in the months ahead holds the key to the future of the relationship. A year after the Wuhan summit, India — which did not participate in the Belt and Road Forum in April this year, just like in the first such forum in May 2017 — did not issue a statement opposing the initiative, which is Xi’s pet project.

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Sources said that the two leaders are likely to review the progress of the understandings reached during Wuhan summit when they meet in Bishkek next month, and the two sides will work on the modalities for the informal summit in Varanasi.