What are the indicators of a summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation leaders meet in Samarkhand, Uzbekistan on 15-16 September, why it may take place and what are the prospects of India China relations ahead – here is a perspective-
Uzbekistan has been a favoured spot for talks between leaders in the region such as India and Pakistan – witness the Tashkent Declaration in 1965, then it was one of the Soviet Republics.
Now independent Uzbekistan may play a similar role by providing the right ambience for the Summit, but before that the two and a half years of ice of the Himalayas will have to be broken and the first step has been taken by the Indian Army and the People’ Liberation Army (PLA) in Eastern Ladakh.
Disengagement PP 15
After months of anticipation with some recrimination as well, India and China commenced disengagement from the disputed area – what India calls PP 15 and the Chinese People Liberation Army (PLA) as Jianan Daban.
Indian Ministry of Defence and Ministry of External Affairs issued similarly worded statements though the headlines were curiously different.
The text of the two statements was common and read, “On 08 September 2022, according to the consensus reached in the 16th round of India China Corps Commander Level Meeting, the Indian and Chinese troops in the area of Gogra-Hotsprings (PP-15) have begun to disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquility in the border areas”.
China Military Online headlined the disengagement differently as “Chinese and Indian troops in area of Jianan Daban begin disengagement.”
However, the text is the same as the Indian statements except for refereeing to Gogra-Hotspring (PP 15) as Jianan Daban.
For the records the China Military online statement reads, “On 8th September, 2022, according to the consensus reached in the 16th Round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting, the Chinese and Indian troops in the area of Jianan Daban have begun to disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquility in the border areas”.
Remainder Points of Contention
Apart from PP 15, there are two areas of contention which continue to evade a resolution – Depsang Plains and Demchok.
India has been insisting on status quo being restored as of April 2020 for normalization of relations with China.
The two points may remain a bone of contention, but a Modi Xi Summit when both are attending the SCO leaders meet in Samarkand cannot be wished away by either side.
COVID 19 had prevented the two from a “face to face” meeting to overcome the “faceoff,” in Eastern Ladakh, now the time is opportune.
Why China May be Keen For A Summit?
During the last two years, and particularly in the past seven months, geopolitical shifts led by the Ukraine War and U.S. China contentions which have been expanded with the visit of numerous US lawmakers including Ms Nancy Pelosi the House Speaker to Taiwan has meant that Beijing needs to build on partnerships.
India has been one of the more amenable ones over the decades including under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however the August 2019 division of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and declaration of Ladakh as a Union Territory followed by Chinese intrusions in Eastern Ladakh in May 2020 has led to a hiatus that had to be repaired.
As China goes in for the 20th People’s Congress in October with President Xi widely expected to get an unprecedented third term the report card must read right.
A rapprochement with India may be a positive outcome.
Chinese economic growth is predicted to be 3.5 % for 2022 as against India’s 7 % plus. India China trade has dropped, thus there could also be an economic angle for the rapprochement.
Why India May be Keen for A Summit?
Resolution of the LAC standoff assumes importance to pull back large number of forces who have been deployed through two winters, which is an extremely expensive proposition in multiple spheres the soldiers, the equipment and then the budget.
Some political brownie points could be had during state elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh while the remaining two standoff points – Depsang Plains and Demchok will be explained away as a legacy of the past and thus disowned by the present government at least from the political point of view.
In any case the Indian Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have at different points in time indicated that no area has been lost to the Chinese.
Will a Modi Xi summit in Samarkand if it happens pave the way for greater India China rapprochement is difficult to say?
In the last two years India has aligned rather strongly with the United States in the Indo Pacific Strategy, a return may not be easy.
Indian diplomacy’s favourite principle is multilateralism and balancing in the new era of geopolitical competition.
Yet the larger India China competition with the border issue continuing to be a thorn in relations cannot be wished away, thus periods of calm may follow a storm.