Explained: Modi & Xi Jinping’s Subtle Signals Before Informal Meet

As the Chinese President arrives in Mahabalipuram, let’s decode the signs and signals that preceded his visit.

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Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam & Sandeep Suman

It’s been a diplomatic snub here, a diplomatic concession there, and some truly inscrutable moments in the weeks before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second ‘informal summit’ with Prime Minister Modi in Mahabalipuram.


China on Kashmir

First, there’s the Kashmir issue, and China’s pivotal role in ‘internationalising’ it to this extent for the first time since Jawaharlal Nehru took it to the United Nations. The topic is so high-stakes that many have rushed to hail any (perceived) backtracking on China’s part as a concession. When the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson omitted a mention of the UN in a reply to press on the Kashmir issue, it was interpreted as a walk-back.

But is it really? China has zero personal stake in Kashmir, so its continued pontificating on it is no more than a show of support to its all-weather friend, Pakistan.

Need India consider this gesture, over an issue that was always intended to be a bargaining chip, a concession? Besides, in a joint statement with Pakistan on PM Imran Khan’s Beijing visit, China mentioned the UN again anyway.

Tibetans Detained

Second, there’s the crackdown on Tibetan protesters who, Deputy Commissioner of Tamil Nadu police said, were taken into preventive custody for planning to hold protests without permission during Xi’s visit.

It seems PM Modi is keen to prevent Xi from seeing any protests, the way he had to endure them in Houston and New York on his US trip.

Arunachal Military Exercise

Third, India embarked on an unprecedented military exercise, ‘Him Vijay’, in Arunachal Pradesh, an area which China claims is part of ‘southern Tibet’. In an unexpected twist, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told Hindustan Times in Beijing that he was not aware of Him Vijay, and that the “so-called exercise” was “not a fact”. We talked to Professor of International Relations at JNU, Rajesh Rajagopalan, who explained this development with a couple of possibilities:

  1. The spokesperson was being diplomatic, not wanting to broach a sensitive issue, but there’s no doubt the exercise actually took place. For a country who registered ‘strong protest’ in February when PM Modi visited the disputed region, it is unlikely they would not know about the military exercise being conducted just 100 kms from the Line of Actual Control.
  2. The spokesperson could simply be misinformed.

Distinguished Fellow at ORF, Manoj Joshi, suggested it was likely that China was playing a semantic game here, in which it didn’t deem the exercise to be any threat, and therefore there was no need to comment on it. Shuang did, in the rest of his answer to HT, say, “The region you mentioned is a sensitive region and we don’t want to hear that reference.”

Lookin’ Good for Huawei

With the US putting pressure on India to ban Huawei from its 5G network – as the US and a few of its allies have already done – and with credible national security concerns, India may have to tread carefully. So far, the signs are that the Indian government will take a kind view of Huawei’s participation in its 5G network.

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