In the backdrop of 7th-century rock-cut chariots of Pancha Ratha overlooking the Bay of Bengal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping sipped coconut water and engaged in casual interaction in a serene setting today, sending signs of positive atmospherics in bilateral ties strained over Kashmir, thanks to frequent flip-flops in the stand of China on the issue. Barely 48 hours after a spokesman of the foreign office of China had toed the Indian line that Kashmir could find a solution only through a bilateral India-Pakistan dialogue, Xi met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and China issued a statement, saying it was “… paying close attention to the current situation in Jammu & Kashmir and reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a dispute left from history, and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements”.
“China supports Pakistan to safeguard its legitimate interests and hopes relevant parties can solve the dispute via peaceful dialogue,” a local media channel quoted Xi Jinping as telling Imran Khan.
Modi, dressed in a Tamil attire of veshti (dhoti), white shirt and an ‘angavastram‘ (shawl), took Xi for a guided tour of the famous world heritage sites of Arjuna’s Penance, Krishna’s Butterball, the Pancharatha and Shore temple in this ancient temple town, kicking off the second informal summit between the two leaders.
“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,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted. He wrote further:
PM @narendramodi & Chinese President Xi continue their conversation against the backdrop of Shore temple, the last of the monuments visited by the two leaders in #Mamallapuram today. The temple is one of the oldest in southern India. #ChennaiConnect pic.twitter.com/wmIx7yTSFr
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) October 11, 2019
Xi’s visit to India comes two days after he held talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Beijing. After the talks, a joint statement said China is paying “close attention” to the situation in Kashmir and that the issue should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter. The comments evoked a sharp reaction from New Delhi.
Shortly after Xi’s aircraft touched down in Chennai, government sources said the two leaders are expected to issue some directions at the end of the summit on Saturday as they did after the first edition of new format of engagement in Chinese city of Wuhan last year.
Officials on both sides said the focus of the Modi-Xi summit would be to move forward and chart a new pathway of development notwithstanding sharp differences between the two countries over several contentious issues.
In the footage of the two leaders visiting the magnificent monuments, beamed by public broadcaster Doordarshan, Modi was seen warmly explaining to the Chinese leader the historical significance of the monuments with the dazzling setting sun casting a soft glow over the iconic site.
Xi, wearing a white shirt and black trousers, was seen showing a keen interest in the famous caves and stone sculptures in the heritage site in this coastal town which had historical links with China’s Fujian province.
Modi and Xi, assisted by one translator from each side, sat down for around 15 minutes at Pancha Ratha complex, an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture, and engaged in casual talks while sipping coconut water – images reflecting warmth in personal chemistry between the two leaders of two emerging economies.
From Pancha Ratha, the two leaders visited the beautifully lit-up Shore temple – a symbol of the cultural heritage of the Pallava dynasty. After spending some time together, Modi and Xi were joined by top delegates of both sides and all they witnessed a cultural programme presented by Kalakshetra society.
After the event, Modi hosted Xi for a private dinner at the Shore temple complex which was beautifully decorated with lights and flowers. Eight delegates from each side were also invited for the dinner and they sat in tables little away from Xi and Modi’s. Delicately selected authentic Tamil cuisines including vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes were served in the dinner.
On the site of Krishna’s Butterball, a gigantic granite boulder sitting firmly on the slope of a hillock, Modi held Xi’s hands, reflecting warmth in their personal chemistry. “Standing together and tall!,” said Kumar in a Twitter post.
Earlier, Xi arrived in Chennai to a red carpet welcome for his second informal summit with Modi amid a realisation a lot is riding on the bilateral ties strained over the hardline approach on the Kashmir issue by both sides.
Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Chief Minister E K Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and Indian Ambassador to China Vikram Misri welcomed the Chinese leader at the Chennai airport on his nearly 24-hour visit.
“Welcome to India, President Xi Jinping!” Modi tweeted, shortly after the Chinese leader arrived on an Air China Boeing 747 aircraft, accompanied by a 90-member delegation including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Politburo member of Central Committee of Chinese Communist Party Ding Xuexiang and State Councilor Yang Jiechi.
Welcome to India, President Xi Jinping! pic.twitter.com/1NGGKTFSCm
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 11, 2019
A brief cultural ceremony reflecting Tamil Nadu’s cultural heritage was organised at the airport to welcome the visiting leader.
“President Xi Jinping arrived in Chennai to a warm and colourful welcome for the 2nd Informal Summit with PM @narendramodi. Taking off from the #WuhanSpirit, the #ChennaiSpirit will continue to chart the future course of India-China partnership,” the MEA Spokesperson tweeted after Xi’s arrival.
The two leaders will have around six-hours of one-on-one free-wheeling talks, officials said.
On Saturday morning, Modi and Xi will have a comprehensive one-on-one meeting to be followed by delegation-level talks. Both sides will, then, issue separate statements on the outcome of the summit.
“Both sides know that a lot is riding on the relationship and this is reflected in the summit being held on schedule despite speculations of its postponement in recent weeks,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity.
Ahead of the two-day summit, Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong on Thursday had said that a “new set of consensus” including “guiding principles” on giving a new direction to the bilateral ties are expected from engagement.
Officials on both sides said the focus of the Modi-Xi summit would be to insulate the bilateral trade and development cooperation from differences on Kashmir and vexed boundary issue.
They said ways to bolster counter-terror cooperation, trade and enhancing cooperation between militaries of the two countries along the 3,500 KM border will be key focus of the talks.
This is the second edition of the informal summit between Modi and Xi. The first informal between the two leaders was held in the picturesque Chinese lake city of Wuhan in April 2018, months after a 73-day face-off between the armies of the two countries in Doklam tri-junction raised fears of a war between the two Asian giants.
Strategic affairs expert Ambassador Ashok Kantha said the focus of the summit on Friday and Saturday would be to move beyond contentious issues and not allow the Kashmir issue to adversely impact overall ties.
Mamallapuram, a town with strong trade linkages with China’s Fujian province, has been spruced up and brought under un unprecedented security cover – in the process inconveniencing local people as well as tourists.