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With history in sight and lake-side walk on itinerary, PM Modi arrives in Wuhan

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APRIL 26, 2018

With history in sight and lake-side walk on itinerary, PM Modi set to land in Wuhan – Photo Credit: Ananth Krishnan

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived in China today, and President Xi Jinping will have at least five rounds of extensive talks over Friday and Saturday in Wuhan.

The informal summit will be wide-ranging without a set agenda, but more structured than previously thought: the two sides will also meet with their delegations of six officials each on Friday evening at the sprawling East Lake Guesthouse, where Xi is staying.

Modi’s interactions with Xi, expected to stretch over eight to 10 hours over two days, will begin Friday afternoon with an intimate one-on-one tour of the Hubei provincial museum. That will be followed by talks between their delegations at the guesthouse, followed by a dinner.

“The idea is to talk freely without a fixed agenda, and for both to agree on principles rather than talk over specific issues,” explains an official, suggesting that specifics, whether the Doklam stand-off or the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, won’t be dealt by the two leaders. “Once we agree on principles, the specifics can be taken up later,” the official added.

Saturday will present an opportunity for both to spend time without their aides and note-takers, with Xi taking Modi for a lakeside walk and a boat ride on the picturesque East Lake.

Wuhan is certainly laying out the red carpet for Prime Minister Modi. The city known as China’s happiest city, with its tree-lined streets and bicycle lanes, is putting on a show for the PM.Ahead of the PM’s arrival on Thursday evening, locals were abuzz about the unprecedented summit meeting. “We heard the news and are excited that both President Xi and Prime Minister Modi are coming to Wuhan,” said Peter Zheng, a student waiting outside Modi’s hotel in the heart of Wuhan. “It’s a big event for the city,” he said.

Indian medical students in Wuhan – there are over 20,000 Indian medical students in China – were also waiting for a glimpse of the PM. “I am so excited to know our PM was coming here so I have been waiting outside his hotel all day,” said Alwin from Kerala.

But this summit is about more than optics. It’s about repairing a difficult relationship after last year’s Doklam stand-off.

Senior Chinese official Kong Xuanyou, who is Beijing’s point-man on India and the Vice Foreign Minister, hinted at why China is now reaching out to Modi.

Although India is facing elections in 2019, Beijing appears to be betting on Modi being here to stay. “Both Xi and Modi have strategic vision and historic responsibility. They are both widely supported by their people and have devoted a lot of energy to this relationship,” he said.

The Trump factor has also forced China’s hand, and the threat of a trade war has unnerved Beijing which doesn’t want to be left isolated, or for India to be firmly in the US camp.

“The world is a turning point. Trade tensions between China and the US present an important choice for the world. China stands for the WTO and the US seems to be withdrawing from globalization,” says Gao Zhikai, strategic expert and former translator to Deng Xiaoping.

Kong says the idea behind the Wuhan summit was to give them an informal atmosphere to have a wide-ranging conversation without a set agenda, and lay the blueprint for the next 100 years, in Kong’s words, and to move past Doklam.

“Xi and Modi have met so many times at various bilateral and multilateral forums. Each time they had good discussions, fostered a personal relationship and good working relationship. But they both felt that there’s still so much to say, so we wanted to create this environment for heart-to-heart talk between friends,” he said.

Wuhan, the famed city on the Yangtze river, home to the Three Gorges Dam, was chosen as the location with much thought. Xi leaving Beijing to meet a foreign leader is being seen as an unprecedented gesture.

“Modi has been to Beijing in the north, Shanghai in the south, Xian in the west and Xiamen last year in the east. But he has never been to the center of China, so we wanted to extend this invitation to Wuhan,” Kong said.


Courtesy/Source: India Today

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