With trade deficit on mind, Modi heads to Wuhan for 'informal meeting' with Xi Jinping

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Apr 25, 2018, 04.49 PM(IST)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave after a group picture during BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Goa, in 2016. Photograph:( Reuters )

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit China for two days for an 'informal meeting' with President Xi Jinping, as efforts at rapprochement gather pace following a testing year in ties between the two giant neighbours.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said the two would meet on Friday and Saturday in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. He added that PM Modi is visiting Wuhan at the invitation of President Xi.

But the details of the meeting, which is reported to have been called suddenly, were being worked upon for the past many days. The meeting of India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval with China's State Councillor on April 13, and presence of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman in China point towards this.

"Our common interests far outweigh our differences. The two countries have no choice other than pursuing everlasting friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation and common development," Wang told reporters after meeting Swaraj in Beijing.

Swaraj confirmed later that her discussion with Wang was to prepare for the informal summit.

Modi's visit is being considered as a bold step, especially after the Doklam stand-off and other border issues. The Asian giants were locked in a 73-day military stand-off in Doklam last year. At one point, soldiers from the two sides threw stones and punches.

This is the fourth time Modi will be visiting China after becoming the Prime Minister. He visited China for bilateral talks in 2015, then again in 2016 to take part in G-20 summit. Modi also attended the BRICS Summit last year in China.

It is almost unheard of for foreign leaders to visit China in such close succession. Xi is also extending Modi the rare honour of a meeting outside of Beijing, which almost never happens unless there is a multilateral summit taking place. Chinese officials said Modi will stay in the most comfortable place in Wuhan.

"The two leaders will spend two days in Wuhan. In these two days, they will engage with other on various forums. What I can tell you here is that they will spend a lot of time together one-on-one," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said. "Leaders in the past met in multilateral occasions, 30 minutes or one hour. Those meetings are important but personally speaking the meetings on the multilateral occasions are more ceremonial meetings," he added.

What's on the agenda?

Trade talks are likely to dominate the meeting between Modi and Xi. With a trade war brewing between US and China, Beijing is keen to amp up the volume of trade with New Delhi. Currently, the trade deficit between the two countries is close to Rs 3.5 lakh crore, though exports have risen by 39 per cent and imports by 14. India has been trying hard to reduce the trade deficit and has been asking Beijing to open IT and pharma sectors for Indian firms.

The second talking point between two leaders is going to be the border issue. Both Modi and Xi are likely to discuss the situation in Doklam and iron out issues pertaining to the network of roads in border areas.

However, sources in New Delhi said the meeting will not have an "issue-based discussion but a strategic conversation between the two leaders to understand each other's perspective on national and international matters". They also said that the summit is not aimed at "resetting" India-China ties.

At the informal summit, the two leaders will have strategic communication on the major changes in the international landscape unseen in more than 100 years. They will have in-depth exchange of views on the issues of overarching long-term and strategic importance in the bilateral relations, Kong said.

"This time we will make the first attempt to hold the informal summit. I am confident that with the joint efforts of both sides the new format will live up to the expectations," he added.