Xi-Modi bonhomie highlight of Sino-India ties in 2019

Last Updated 30 December 2019, 06:32 IST

Buoyed by the bonhomie generated by the two informal summits between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping, India-China relations managed to maintain a "sound momentum" in 2019, notwithstanding the serious differences over issues like Kashmir and the UN designation of a terror group leader based in Pakistan.

"China is willing to work with India to build a closer development partnership under the guidance of the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, enhance political mutual trust, expand practical cooperation, properly manage differences and push forward bilateral relations on a sound and stable track," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

"At present, China-India relations have shown sound momentum of development with steady progress in exchanges and cooperation in various fields," Hua said, summing up the state of the bilateral ties this year from Beijing's perspective.

In October, Xi and Modi held their 2nd successful informal summit at Mamallapuram, "charting the course for the next phase of bilateral relations", she said in a written response to PTI.

The "guidance" from the top leadership was very much needed as the outgoing year is a mixed one with China's all-weather ally Pakistan continuing to be an elephant in the room posing a major challenge for the progress of the relations between the dragon and the elephant.

On the positive side, 2019 will be remembered for the closure of major irritant in the bilateral ties for years - the UN designation of Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.

Diplomats from both the countries heaved a huge sigh of relief in May after Beijing dropped its decade-long opposition to the UN's designation of Pakistan-based Azhar, in a major diplomatic win for India.

Before that, China, however, keeping up with the spirit of the first informal summit between Modi and Xi at Wuhan tried to bring down Indo-Pak tensions following the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.

China sent a Vice Foreign Minister to Pakistan to counsel restraint from Islamabad. But tensions in India-China ties returned to the fore when Beijing took umbrage after New Delhi scrapped Article 370 removing the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh.

A day after India's move, China issued two statements, one objecting to the formation of Ladakh as a Union Territory, highlighting Beijing's claims over the area. In another statement, it called on India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and act prudently.

But China hardened its stand after Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi air-dashed to Beijing to seek its backing to take the issue to the UN.

After his talks with Qureshi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said "China is seriously concerned about the latest escalation of tensions in Kashmir. The Kashmir issue is a dispute left from the colonial history".

"It should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement," he said, marking a shift in Beijing's long-standing position that the issue should be bilaterally resolved between India and Pakistan.

The issue prominently figured in External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's talks with Wang. During the talks, Jaishankar asserted that the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter and sole prerogative of the country.

He also said it had no implication for either the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

But days later, China formally asked for "closed consultations" in the UNSC to discuss India's decision to revoke Article 370, backing Pakistan's request to the Council, heightening Sino-India tensions.

The UNSC meeting, however, ended without any outcome or statement, dealing a huge snub to Pakistan and China's efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

Days before the 2nd informal summit, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, accompanied by Army chief Gen. Qamer Javed Bajwa, visited Beijing and held talks with Xi, seeking to push the Kashmir issue to the fore again.

A statement after the meeting said China was "paying close attention to the current situation in Jammu & Kashmir". India dismissed the statement, saying "It is not for other countries to comment on the internal affairs of India".

The informal summit between Xi and Modi, however, restored the much-needed stability in the bilateral ties.

"We should correctly look at the differences between the two countries and not let them dilute the overall situation of cooperation between the two countries," Xi said after the talks, in an apparent reference to India's concerns over China's close ties with Pakistan.

The two leaders agreed to establish a High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue mechanism, especially to address India's trade deficit with China which last year mounted to over USD 57 billion in the USD 95.5 billion total bilateral trade.

They decided to designate 2020 as Year of India-China Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges and hold 70 activities to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-India ties.

During the 22nd round of the boundary talks between Foreign Minister Wang and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in New Delhi in December end, the two sides agreed to intensify efforts to achieve a "fair", "reasonable" and mutually acceptable solution to the vexed issue.

(Published 25 December 2019, 09:37 IST)

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