HANDSHAKE DIPLOMACY Leaders discuss ‘range of issues’
NEWDELHI/BEIJING: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping briefly interacted and discussed a “range of issues” during an informal gathering of Brics leaders in Hamburg on Friday, raising hopes of a resolution to the three-week-old standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Sikkim sector.
Addressing the gathering before the interaction, Xi also called on Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries to “push for peaceful settlement of regional conflicts and disputes”, Chinese state media reported.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay tweeted a photo of the two leaders smiling and shaking hands. He said Modi and Xi had a “conversation on a range of issues”.
But there was no indication whether the two leaders specifically discussed the border dispute that has roiled bilateral relations.
According to sources, the conversation lasted about five minutes.
The interaction, held against the backdrop of the tense standoff between Indian and Chinese forces, came a day after China ruled out a formal bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Hamburg, with officials saying the “atmosphere is not right”.
Indian officials had responded by saying no formal meeting had been planned.
The BRICS leaders met on the margins of the G20 Summit. During the meeting, Modi and Xi praised the roles played by each other’s country in the international arena.
Modi “appreciated momentum in BRICS under the chairmanship of President Xi and extended full cooperation and best wishes for the BRICS Xiamen Summit”, according to a statement from the external affairs ministry.
Concluding the meeting immediately after Modi’s remarks, Xi “appreciated India’s strong resolve against terrorism and the momentum in BRICS introduced under India’s chairmanship and through the outcomes of the Goa Summit in 2016”.
Xi also appreciated “India’s success in economic and social development and wished India even bigger success”.
Ahead of the meeting of BRICS leaders, however, China kept up the pressure on India over the standoff at Donglang, which began on June 16 when Indian troops opposed the construction of a road by Chinese forces in an area claimed by Bhutan.
India has “ulterior motives” in claiming the entire Doklam or Donglang region as part of the tri-junction with Bhutan, and New Delhi’s stance goes against its acceptance of a British-era convention on national boundaries in the area, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told a news briefing.
“The so-called tri-junction point, as its name implies, is a point instead of a line or area. The 1890 convention between Great Britain and China relating to Tibet and Sikkim (shows that the point) commences at Mount Gipmochi in the east and follows the water-parting until it meets Nepal,” Geng said.
Noting that successive Indian governments had recognised the 1890 convention, Geng contended that the “illegal trespass” by Indian troops had occurred at a point 2,000 metres from Mount Gipmochi and had “nothing to do with tri-junction point”.
“In disregard of the boundary convention, the Indian side takes entire Doklam region as part of tri-junction… The Indian side introduced idea of tri-junction point into the incident and attempts to enlarge the point into an area. That is absurd and out of ulterior motives,” he said.
Soon after Modi and Xi interacted at the BRICS meet, staterun Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that “India should immediately pull back its trespassing troops” as a precondition for any meaningful dialogue between the two sides.
“It is not acceptable to any sovereign country that India has crossed a demarcated border into another country on the grounds of its ‘security concerns’,” said the commentary headlined “Immediate withdrawal is only wise move for India”.
India has no right to “interfere in China-Bhutan boundary issues” and is not entitled to “make territorial claims on behalf of Bhutan”. India’s argument that the Chinese construction would represent a “significant change of status quo with serious security implications” is “unconvincing”, the commentary added.