India-China ties: Lakhvi ghost shadows Modi-Xi talks, but focus on bright new future

The ghost of 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-RehmanLakhvi hung in the winter air in Ufa as Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the twin summits, a meeting that was marked by much bonhomie despite the discordant note struck by Beijing over the Lakhvi issue.

Significantly, this was the fifth meeting between the two leaders in a year, bilaterally and on the margins of various multilateral summits, which underlines a new phase of intense and accelerated engagement between the two Asian giants, which are often viewed through the Western prism of rivalry and competition.

The meeting saw Mr Modi fondly reminiscing about his visit to Xian, China’s fabled city of Terracotta Warriors and home province of the Chinese president, in May this year, and his wide-ranging talks with the Chinese leader on the future trajectory of relations between the two Asian powers. Meeting barely six weeks later, the two leaders assessed the progress in bilateral relations positively, especially in the area of investments and China’s involvement in building industrial parks and smart cities in India.  But amid all this forward-looking talk, China’s blocking of India’s move in the UN demanding action against Pakistan for releasing Lakhvi from jail created a jarring note, with Mr Modi discussing the issue in great details and conveying New Delhi’s concerns.

“The issue did come up and Prime Minister did raise our concerns, and it was discussed at some detail, and we expect those discussions to continue between the two governments,” said India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar after the talks in Ufa. However, in a sign of new candour in India-China relations, the Lakhvi issue did not come in the way of the efforts by the two leaders in resolving outstanding issues and to firm up an architecture of win-win cooperative relationship between two major powers in Asia.  This was clearly reflected in the foreign secretary’s gloss on the discussions  between the two leaders on the Lakhvi issue. “Prime Minister made our concerns known very clearly on this; and I am sure that the Chinese side was impressed by the clarity and directness with which he communicated our concerns.”

Looking ahead, the two leaders prioritised fast-tracking of the resolution of the boundary issue and sustain ongoing efforts and mechanisms for maintaining peace on the undemarcated frontier. “The talks also covered border issues, the work which the Special Representatives have been charged with, the possibilities of their making accelerated progress, peace and tranquility issues, confidence-building measures including the possibility of more meeting points,” said Mr Jaishankar.

Mr Modi again sought China’s support for India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UNSC. Beijing, however, is understood to have repeated its well-worn formulation of backing a bigger role for New Delhi in the global arena.

Broadly speaking, Mr Xi struck a positive note, saying that the two countries have been able to manage their differences well and have been working towards maintaining peace and security in the region. He underlined that India and China should work together in the development of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS New Development Bank and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor.

Shedding its earlier ambivalence, China has supported India’s full membership for the SCO. In this context, the two leaders discussed prospects of cooperation between the two countries in the SCO.

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