Leaders of China and India Seek Stable Ties After Border Spat

  • Two leaders hold official talks after BRICS summit in Xiamen
  • Xi told Modi that ‘healthy ties’ are in their best interest

Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping on Sept. 4.

Photographer: Fred Dufour/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held their first talks since defusing a border stand-off, with both leaders calling for stable ties between the two Asian giants.

A healthy, stable relationship is in the fundamental interest of both nations, Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday after the conclusion of a summit of so-called BRICS nations in China’s Xiamen. He called for pushing ties forward on the “right track."

“China and India should stick with the fundamental judgement that both can provide development opportunities for each other and neither should pose threats toward each other,” Xi was quoted as saying by Xinhua. "I hope India can correctly and rationally view China’s development."

Modi and Xi had a "constructive" meeting in which they discussed how to improve ties and avoid letting differences turn into disputes, India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said in a briefing after the talks. 

“Where there is an area of difference, it should be handled with mutual respect and efforts should be made to find common ground,” Jaishankar said. “Peace and tranquility in the border areas was a prerequisite for the further development of our relationship.”

Recent Tensions

The sit-down follows the easing of an acrimonious, months-long dispute in a remote mountainous border area in the Himalayas. The day before the meeting, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pledged to increase economic cooperation to boost global growth.

Read more: What’s the China-India Border Stand-Off All About?

“Both showed a conciliatory approach with an eye to stabilizing the bilateral ties of the world’s two important developing countries,” said Sun Shihai, a senior researcher on China-India relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The dispute on the Doklam plateau had simmered since mid-June, evoking memories of a brief border war in 1962 where China emerged the victor. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to confirm whether Xi and Modi specifically discussed the Doklam border stand-off in the talks.

‘Big Challenge’

The latest tensions began after a Chinese road building party moved into territory claimed by Bhutan, and Indian troops moved into Bhutan to assist its much smaller neighbor. The face-off led to a troop build up in the area, with barbs traded between Chinese state-owned media and India’s media.

On Aug. 28, India said both sides agreed to an “expeditious disengagement” of troops. China’s foreign ministry said later that India withdrew personnel and equipment from its territory, and vowed to continue exercising “sovereign rights” in the area.

The two countries contain 36 percent of the world’s population and account for 18 percent of global gross domestic product. Add to that, the symbiotic trade relationship between the two major Asian economies and there’s lot at stake.

India mainly ships electronic products, engineering goods and chemicals from China, its biggest trading partner, with whom its trade deficit has ballooned nine-fold over the past decade to $49 billion in 2016.

"Both sides would like to put Doklam behind them, and they’ll look ahead, which is a sensible approach to take, but Doklam did create a degree of bitterness in the relations," said Ashok Kantha, director of the New Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies, who served as India’s ambassador to China until 2016. 

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