New Delhi: With American cities still racked by protests against police brutality, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did bring up “civil disturbances” in his conversation with US President Donald Trump, but their phone call was dominated by China – with the two leaders discussing the continuing military stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers.
This is the two leaders’ first phone call after Trump had claimed that last month that Modi had expressed unhappiness over the border issue with China. There had been no official rebuttal, but Indian sources had pointed out that their last phone call had been on April 4 – a month before Indian and Chinese troops first clashed at the border.
Trump had also offered to mediate between India and China, but the Indian government had batted him away, stating that the two neighbours are engaged diplomatically.
While the US readout of the phone call is still awaited, the Indian side has already released a version of the half-hour-long conversation of “exceptional warmth and candour”, which highlights New Delhi’s priorities.
In his tweet on the phone call, Modi did not mention that border issue was explicitly discussed, but the Ministry of External Affairs’ communique listed it among the “topical” subjects that were discussed.
“The two leaders also exchanged views on other topical issues, such as the COVID-19 situation in the two countries, the situation on the India-China border, and the need for reforms in the World Health Organisation,” said the press note.
The mention of the India-China border was sandwiched between other topics, but it was probably the critical issue from India’s perspective.
This is the first time that MEA has indicated that the prime minister has brought up the latest developments in India-China border situation with the US or any other third country.
It also comes on the same day that the Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh said that “sizeable number” of Chinese troops are present at the ongoing stand-off.
“Whatever is happening at present… It is true that people of China are on the border. They claim that it is their territory. Our claim is that it is our area. There has been a disagreement over it. A sizeable number of Chinese people have come there. India has done what it needs to do,” Singh told CNN-News 18.
As per the Indian readout, Modi also raised the issue of COVID-19 and the need for “reforms in the World Health Organisation”. Trump has already announced that the US will withdraw from the WHO over its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, asserting that the UN body was aligned with China. While India has indeed mentioned the need for “reforms” in WHO several times, it has also asserted the importance of the UN organisation and that the review of its response could be done after the pandemic ends.
The MEA’s press note was also significant for the reference to the ongoing protests that have gripped American cities after a black man, George Floyd, was killed in police custody after a white police officer knelt on his neck last Monday.
“Prime Minister Modi expressed concern regarding the ongoing civil disturbances in the US, and conveyed his best wishes for an early resolution of the situation,” said the statement.
Trump has been facing criticism for allegedly using soldiers to clear peaceful protestors in Washington, so that he could pose with a Bible in front of a church on Monday.
When Trump was in Delhi on February 25, there had been riots going on in north-eastern part of the capital, where pro-Hindutva groups targeted anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protestors and Muslims, specifically. However, he refused to comment on these riots during a press conference at the end of his India tour, whose highlight had been the ‘Namaste Trump’ jamboree in Ahmedabad. “As far as the individual attacks, I heard about it and I didn’t discuss that with him. That was up to India.”
Trump also apparently raised his proposal to expand the membership of G7 to other other countries. “President Trump spoke about the US Presidency of the Group of Seven, and conveyed his desire to expand the ambit of the grouping beyond the existing membership, to include other important countries including India.”
While announcing the postponement of the G7 summit last week, the US president stated that he wanted Australia, India, South Korea and Russia to join an expanded club of world leaders by making it “G10 or G11”.
According to US analysts, Trump’s efforts to expand the G7 was likely a result of his repeated effort to re-admit Russia. In August last year, Trump said that he would like to Russia inside the group.
In a blow to his efforts, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau have opposed bringing back Russia, which had been expelled in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.
In Moscow, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zhakarova said on Tuesday that the idea of an expanded G7 summit was positive, but “does not really mean a true representation”. “For instance, it is obvious that it is hardly possible to implement serious global initiatives without China,” she told reporters.
Meanwhile, the EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell said that the US did not have right to invite any countries as members.
“The prerogative of the G7 chair, in this case the United States, is to issue guest invitations – guest invitations reflect the host’s priorities… But changing membership, changing the format on a permanent basis, is not a prerogative of the G7 chair,” he said on Tuesday.
China retorted that it believes that Trump’s proposal to invite the four countries was a ploy to isolate and target Beijing. “China believes that all international organisations and conferences should be conducive to mutual trust between countries, multilateralism and world peace and development. This is also the aspiration of the vast majority of countries in the world. Seeking a clique targeting China is not a popular move, and it doesn’t serve the interests of countries concerned,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
The MEA said that Trump “extended an invitation to Prime Minister Modi to attend the next G-7 Summit to be held in USA”, which indicated that it was only as an invitee of the presidency. The Indian prime minister had also attend the G7 summit in France last year. Previously, Manmohan Singh had attend the earlier G8 summit in UK in 2005.
Accepting the invitation, “Prime Minister Modi commended President Trump for his creative and far-sighted approach, acknowledging the fact that such an expanded forum would be in keeping with the emerging realities of the post-COVID world.”
The Indian leader also added that “India would be happy to work with the US and other countries to ensure the success of the proposed Summit”.