Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective. This week we cover all the buzz heading into the second Modi-Xi informal summit; China’s GDP slowing below 6%; Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Russia; the US reconsidering HK’s special status and much more…
I. Prepping for Wuhan 2.0
In a wide-ranging press interaction this week, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar set the stage for the upcoming informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. Both sides so far seem to indicate that the details – dates, venue, and so on – regarding the summit are still being worked out
Here’s a breakdown of his remarks on key China-related questions:
- He described the recent incident between the forces in Ladakh as a “face-off” and not a “skirmish,” saying that it had been resolved. He added that there are mechanisms in place for such incidents and that these “mechanisms kicked into play and they did address” it. Border Personnel Meetings are an example of the mechanisms he is talking about. This week two such meetings were reportedly held at Natu La in Sikkim and at Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh.
- On the South China Sea issue, i.e., tensions at Vanguard Bank, he said that “a lot of responses to that are being handled by the Vietnamese which is the way it should be.”
- On Wang Yi’s visit to Delhi being rescheduled, he said “there was no rescheduling,” suggesting that there weren’t any clear dates finalised for the SR talks.
- On Huawei, he attempted some serious deflection, saying that “the impression that this is a choice which is going to be a foreign policy choice, I don’t think that is accurately perceiving or assessing that issue.” It’s worrying if this is really the foreign policy establishment’s view.
- On the so-called Wuhan spirit, he seemed to suggest that both sides continue to look at the relationship from a broader perspective, with the underlying principle of differences not becoming disputes remaining firm. He added: “it is important for India and China, who are both countries who are rising powers, to find equilibriums because each one of them has their own expectations of the world and of each other.”
- On BRI, he said there had been no rethink by the government.
- Also noteworthy, he did say that India was watching events in Hong Kong, given our investments and an Indian community there.
From the Chinese side, there were remarks by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on the possibility of Modi and Xi discussing Kashmir, which has been picked up by much of the Indian press.
“I am not sure. For this kind of informal summit, I think it is better to leave the leaders much time to discuss whatever they would like to discuss. Those issues of strategic thinking of the broad sense of the picture. I think for those things like Kashmir, I don’t think it will be a major topic occupying the talks, that is my understanding. But for the leaders, they will be free to talk about whatever they like, that is my understanding.”
She also spoke about the India-China border issue, saying: “I understand we have established quite a good mechanism, and the two sides have very fruitful and smooth channels for communication. One thing is China has always kept our word and we never wanted to do anything that could harm the mutual trust between China and India and we hope to see the same goodwill from the Indian side.”
My Bubble: The first thought that I had while reading through the transcript of Jaishankar’s press engagement was that he didn’t mention the Indo-Pacific at all. Also, clearly, both New Delhi and Beijing are keen on this informal summit. The statements this week suggest that there is an effort by both sides to dial down the rhetoric before the meeting. The process, it seems, began in earnest with China’s UN representative Zhang Jun reaching out to his Indian counterpart Syed Akbaruddin. Jaishankar will also say to be likely to meet Wang Yi at the sidelines of the UNGA. There is sufficient incentive and interest on both sides to engage and work together. But long-term differences are likely to be difficult to bridge. For instance, the MEA questioned CPEC last week and this week Jaishankar emphasised India’s objective of exercising physical jurisdiction over PoK.
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