Briefing journalists at the end of the first day’s talks between Modi and Xi, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said the leaders had already spent over five hours in close conversation with each other and the “quality time” embraced a host of issues, several that would be taken up again on Saturday.
Gokhale said Modi told Xi that his renewed mandate was for economic development and the Chinese leader responded by saying that he was ready to work closely with the Indian leader. Though details of the conversation were limited, the atmospherics including a long walk where Modi explained the theme of unity of man and nature in the monuments seemed to reflect an easy interaction.
Gokhale quoted Xi as saying that he had been “overwhelmed” by the welcome and arrangements made by the Tamil Nadu government. “The visuals reflect the personal rapport between the two leaders,” Gokhale said. While this is the second informal summit between Modi and Xi, they have met 17 times in bilateral and multilateral settings in the past five years.
The foreign secretary said the discussions focused mainly on exchanging notes on “national visions and governance priorities”. The issue of trade came up and the two leaders also agreed that terrorism posed a serious threat to their cultures.
Gokhale said Modi turned tour guide for Xi, explaining the significance of the historical monuments for the Chinese leader. The choice of Mamallapuram as a venue stemmed from the historical trading links between this part of India and south-western China, particularly the Fujian province, of which Xi was governor at one time.
There was also a reference to the ancient Pallava prince Bodhidharma who travelled to China and Japan to spread Zen Buddhism and, some say, the art of Kung Fu.
Modi also explained to Xi that the Ganesh Ratha remained an active place of worship even today, over 1300 years after it was built. “It’s a living temple,” Gokhale quoted the PM as saying. Describing the tone of the conversations as “cordial”, Gokhale said trade and investment featured in the conversation, particularly an Indian push on opening Chinese markets to Indian products and services, to “enhance trade volume and value”.
The leaders also had a short conversation on radicalisation and terrorism, which they dubbed as a “common” challenge.
As Xi landed in Chennai, Modi tweeted a welcome message to him in Chinese — “Welcome to India!”
Welcome to India, President Xi Jinping! https://t.co/1NGGKTFSCm
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) 1570785638000
“The free flowing nature of the informal summit at the Unesco world heritage site will continue and deepen contacts at the highest level and guide the future trajectory of India-China relationship,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
The free flowing nature of the Informal Summit at the UNESCO World Heritage site will continue and deepen contacts… https://t.co/TraKLh2kfF
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) 1570797406000
The Modi-Xi summit comes on a day when China’s chief trade negotiator Liu He is expected to begin an important round of trade talks with the US, teasing hopes yet again that a trade breakthrough could clear the frost between China and the US.
Whatever the outcome, it will not leave India untouched. India and China have their own trade worries, and during his talks with Xi, Modi will push for greater market access for Indian goods and services. A conversation on RCEP is also likely to happen between the two leaders, since it is the fear of Chinese dumping that is preventing India from signing on to the regional trade deal.