On Wuhan India-China Summit Day One, Words of Friendship and Partnership

Both leaders agreed that this would be a recurring event, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inviting President Xi Jinping to India for a next edition in 2019.

New Delhi: The first ‘informal’ summit between Indian and Chinese leaders kicked off with the ringing of ancient bells in the city of Wuhan, and both Premier Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressing on the importance of a close relationship between the Asian powers as a fundamental requirement for global stability.

Both leaders agreed that this would be a recurring event, with Modi inviting Xi to India for a next edition in 2019.

The ‘informal’ summit had been touted as a new type of protocol-lite diplomatic meeting between the Indian and Chinese leaders, where neither would sweat over specific issues but reach an understanding over the big picture – both in bilateral relations and global geo-politics.

There was, however, quite a lot of pomp and ceremony on the first day.

Modi arrived in Wuhan, capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei, after midnight on Friday. After a morning ensconced with officials in his hotel, Modi left in his convoy for the Hubei Provincial Museum, where the Chinese president was waiting for him with a handshake on the red carpet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, China on Friday. Credit: PTI/MEA

They then stood together to watch a troupe of Chinese dancers performing against a backdrop of the museum’s prized set of musical bronze bells that were found in the lavish tomb of a 5th century BC nobleman.

The two leaders even took turns to ring the heaviest of the bianzhong, a set of 64 bronze chime bells. These were the only complete set of musical bells ever found in China. They were found during excavation of the tomb in 1978. The nobleman, only known to history as Marquis Yi of Zheng, had been buried with 21 young women, chariots, bronze vessels and weapons – around 15000 objects – which are now kept at the Hubei museum, which was shown around to the two leaders.

In the museum, the two leaders had the chance for a short one-on-one chat, before they were whisked away to the East Lake Guesthouse.

Here, the setting was familiar and formal, with both leaders sitting across a big table, accompanied by six officials and an interpreter.

The Chinese delegation included Politburo member Yang Jiechi, general office director Ding Xuexiang, foreign minister Wang Yi, China’s ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui and vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou.

On the Indian side, the discussants included the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, Indian ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, joint secretary (prime minister’s office) Gopal Baglay and private secretary to PM, Sanjeev Singla.

Opening the meeting, Xi said that both leaders have “jointly guided the growth of China-India relations and seen that it has maintained a good momentum of development”.

Modi and Xi have met over a dozen times, most of them on the sidelines of multilateral summit. The last two stand-alone meetings took place in Ahmedabad in 2014 and Xian in 2015.

Since then, China and India relations have seen more dips than highs, with the two countries differing on Indian membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group and Pakistani backing for terrorist attacks on Indian soil. Last year, there had been a long period of tension when Chinese and Indian soldiers were eyeball-to-eyeball at Doklam in Bhutan.

“As we meet, the international situation is at a crucial period of adjustment. China and India are both important centres for global growth and we are central pillars for promoting a multipolar and globalised world,” said Xi.

While it didn’t figure in the public remarks, both Chinese and Indian leaders would have been conscious of the momentous Inter-Korea summit, which could be a pivotal event in Asian security dynamics.

Keeping his focus on his guest, Xi asserted, “a good China-India relationship is an important and positive factor for maintaining stability in the world”.

He stated that the two countries are maintaining a “strong and determined” focus on national development and “national revitalisation”.

Xi said that both countries should “partner with each other to build Asia in the 21st century that enjoys stability, development and prosperity”. “We also need to make positive contribution towards global peace,” he added.

The Chinese president, who can now choose to govern for life as the term limits on the presidency were recently removed, added that both leaders should meet “in formats like this from time to time”.

He hoped that the informal summit will help them to “reach important understanding that will take China India relationship to next level”.

Modi then invited Xi to visit India for the second ‘informal’ summit in 2019. During the first half of the year, India will be holding its general elections.

The Indian prime minister said that he was “proud” to be the only Indian leader for whom the Chinese president had travelled twice outside the capital.

Perhaps influenced by the visit to the museum, Modi sought to bring a historical context to the meeting, stating that it was not just a meeting of two leaders.

He asserted that for 1,600 years in the last two millenia, Indian and Chinese economies had together account for half of the world’s GDP.

With 40% of the population in the two countries, it was a big opportunity to bring stability and peace in the world by improving cooperation between the two countries and their people, added Modi.

After the opening monologues, the discussion went on hour for two hours, more than the 30 minutes allotted for it in the official schedule. It was followed by an official dinner banquet.

Modi gifted Xi reprints of two paintings made by a renowned Chinese painter Xubei Hong during his stay in Shanti Niketan in 1939-40.

As per officials, Saturday should see a more relaxed mood, with the two leaders taking a stroll together along the East Lake and going for a boat ride in the morning. The Indian delegation is scheduled to leave Wuhan by early afternoon for New Delhi.