“Give light and people will find the way.”
– Ella Baker
Two important top-level meetings took place in Asia last week. While North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un met South Korean president Moon Jae-in for a historic summit at the border town of Punmunjeom in the South, prime minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan city in central-eastern China’s Hubei Province. Both the Koreas and India and China are neighbours who have had a long history of hostility. While North Korea’s series of nuclear tests in recent times brought it closer to heightened hostilities with South Korea, India and China had a serious military standoff over Doklam in 2017 resulting in a steep deterioration in their relations. The summit between the leaders of the two Koreas is perhaps the most significant step in decades towards securing peace on the peninsula. The two leaders resolved during their meeting to achieve “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization.” They declared that there would be no more war on the peninsula. There are plans to transform the existing armistice into a peace treaty with the help of the U.S. and China, to formally end the Korean War by year-end.
Clearly, like the two Koreas, both India and China have arrived at an understanding to coexist peacefully. The intense but informal engagement in a picturesque setting spread was part of an effort to enhance “strategic communication” between the two Asian powers. The impression one gets from the public appearances and statements issued that the Wuhan ‘informal’ meeting between Modi and Jinping has touched upon all the crucial issues over the two days. The media has heralded the meeting as a new beginning of as far as relationship between the two neighbouring countries is concerned particularly in the backdrop of last year’s Doklam-stand-off. This was the second meeting between the two leaders after the successful disengagement at Doklam, first being at Xiamen during BRICS conference 2017. This time most of their conversations were informal in the presence of translators only.
There was just one delegation-level meeting at Wuhan. Two significant aspects of the informal deliberation were (a) they decided to “issue strategic guidance to their militaries to strengthen communication”, essentially to avoid another Doklam-like confrontation and (b) India and China resolved to build “an economic project” in Afghanistan where US president Donald Trump is stuck with the Taliban and the ISIS, Haqqani Network etc. The agreement on jointly implementing a development project in Afghanistan signals their willingness to work together in the war-torn country. Modi and Xi have stressed on peace at the Indo-China border, the LAC. But the big takeaway was ‘no tolerance on terrorism’. The Wuhan ‘informal’ meeting may give an impression that revival of friendship has been complete and total. The reality is different – it is only a beginning. Both the nations are well-placed to proceed along that path. Much will depend how New Delhi and Beijing take forward the Wuhan understandings. Overall, Modi-Xi meet at Wuhan must not be one stopover but the beginning of a new and vigorous partnership to usher in peaceful co-existence of two powerful neighbours.