Trade, Kashmir on the table as Modi, Xi Jinping hold informal summit

Chinese President landed in Chennai on Friday afternoon in an Air China Boeing 747 for a two-day informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with officials hopeful the leaders would revive the “Wuhan spirit”.

Modi and Xi’s first informal summit in Wuhan in April 2018 had helped the two Asian neighbours overcome the trust deficit of the 73-day Doklam military standoff.

New Delhi hoped the Modi-Xi handshakes, as they took a tour of the over 1,000-year-old rock-cut structures at the historic port city of Mamallapuram in the evening, would convince Beijing to see the Kashmir issue from India’s perspective. China, on the other hand, wants more access of its products into India, especially now in the context of its tension with the US on trade.

Developments preceding the summit have not been altogether conducive. Beijing hosted Pakistan PM Imran Khan, his third visit to China since August, just before Xi left for India and the Chinese President’s comments on Kashmir. Xi is slated to visit Nepal after concluding his India visit on Saturday evening.

On Saturday, the two leaders will spend nearly six hours in one-on-one meetings and delegation-level talks. The two sides are also likely to issue separate statements following the discussions.

Sources said the two leaders were likely to discuss confidence-building measures, border dispute and trade issues. Trade ministers of Asean countries and their six trading partners, including China and India, are currently discussing the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) free-trade agreement in Bangkok.

However, the first day of the summit was reserved for the two leaders touring the historical sites. Modi, in a veshti, and Xi in a white shirt and black trousers, attended cultural performances and partook of local cuisine. “The free flowing nature of the informal summit at the UNESCO World Heritage site will continue and deepen contacts at the highest level and guide the future trajectory of India-China relationship,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

Credits: T E  Narasimhan

Credits: T E Narasimhan

Modi arrived in Chennai at 11am on Friday morning, took a helicopter to East Coast Road and drove to Taj Fisherman Cove, the venue of the summit. “I am happy to be in the great land of Tamil Nadu, known for its wonderful culture and hospitality. It is gladdening that Tamil Nadu will host President May this Informal Summit further strengthen ties between India and China,” the PM tweeted.

The Boeing 747-Air China, carrying Chinese President along with a 90-member delegation, landed at Chennai Airport at 2 pm. Senior members accompanying Chinese president include senior mebers of the Communist Party of China, foreign minister Wang Yi and others.

After a brief stopover, the Chinese President drove to Mamallapuram, 56 km from Chennai. Normal traffic was stopped in the IT corridor through which he travelled. Educational institutions and shops and other commercial establishments were closed for the day.

Xi drove in a Hongqi, a Chinese luxury car 18 feet long, 6.5 feet wide and 5 feet tall, which weighs 3,152 kg. Hongqi literally means “red flag”. He arrived at Mamallapuram at 5 pm. and Prime Minister Modi received him and shook hands in front of the Arjuna’s Penance, a monolithic monument in the historic location.

Modi, who tweeted in Chinese and Tamil too, appeared in traditional Tamilian dress of white dhoti, white shirt and an angavasthram.

He gave a personal tour to Xi for nearly an hour, as the Chinese president had of the Hubei provincial museum during the Wuhan summit. Both the leaders started from Arjuna Penance where they shook hands, Krishnan’s Butter Ball 20feet rock and 250 tonne weight where they raised their clasped hands, with Modi explaining the history and mythology of the monuments.

Both the leaders held informal talks on one-on-one without agenda, said officials. After the meet, for 30 minutes they witnessed cultural programme before heading to a private dinner near on the shores of Mamallapuram.

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