No sign of a thaw between India and China was visible even as both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping attended the 22nd summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at Samarkand in Uzbekistan on Friday.
Modi and Xi joined other SCO leaders for a photo session. The two leaders also sat around the same table along with others during the summit. They were however not seen exchanging greetings, let alone having the much-speculated bilateral meeting on the sideline of the summit.
The SCO summit was the first time that both Modi and Xi physically attended a plurilateral event after the military stand-off between India and China started along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto boundary between the two nations – in eastern Ladakh in April-May 2020. As the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army ended the impasse in negotiation for resolving the stand-off with yet another round of disengagement just ahead of the summit, speculation was rife that it might set the stage either for a bilateral meeting between the two sides or a pull-aside on the sideline of the summit.
Modi had bilateral meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the host of the summit, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, before leaving Samarkand for New Delhi.
The prime minister had all the bilateral meetings for which requests were received, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told journalists. He subtly indicated that Beijing had not requested New Delhi for a meeting between the two leaders on the sideline of the summit.
Modi and Xi had held talks during a pull-aside chat on the sideline of the G20 summit at Hamburg in Germany in July 2017, when the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA had been engaged in a stand-off at Doklam in western Bhutan. The talks between the two leaders had added momentum to the negotiation between the two sides and the stand-off had been resolved a few weeks later.
The prime minister and the Chinese President later had a series of meetings in 2018 and 2019, including two informal summits, one at Wuhan in central China in April 2018 and another near Chennai in India in October 2019. They had last held a bilateral meeting on the sideline of the BRICS summit in Brasilia in November 2019. The stand-off along the LAC in eastern Ladakh however brought the relations between the two nations to a new low and the two leaders had no such bilateral engagement in the past three years.