Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, shake hands before the group photo session on the sidelines of the 2017 Brics summit in Xiamen, Fujian province in China, on September 5 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, shake hands before the group photo session on the sidelines of the 2017 Brics summit in Xiamen, Fujian province in China, on September 5 2017. Picture: REUTERS

New Delhi/Hong Kong — Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held their first talks since defusing a border stand-off, with Xi 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 Brics nations — Brazil, Russua, India, China and SA — in China’s Xiamen. He called for pushing ties forward on the "right track".

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 Subrahmanyam 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, Brics leaders pledged to increase economic co-operation to boost global growth.

"Both showed a conciliatory approach with an eye to stabilising 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. The latest tensions began after a Chinese road-building party moved into territory claimed by Bhutan, leading Indian troops to move in to assist its much smaller neighbour. The face-off led to a troop build-up in the area, with barbs traded between Chinese state-owned media and India’s media.

‘Big challenge’

On August 28, India said both sides had 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% of the world’s population and account for 18% of global GDP. 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 $49bn 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.

Bloomberg

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