Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to strengthen communications and maintain peace along the two countries’ shared border, following the conclusion of a two-day “informal” summit held in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“The two leaders underscored the importance of maintaining peace and tranquility in all areas of the India-China border region in the larger interest of the overall development of bilateral relations,” read a joint statement issued by the Indian Foreign Ministry.
The announcement comes less than a year after the two regional powers became locked in a tense 72-day military standoff in the disputed border region in the India-China-Bhutan “trijunction.”
The incident was the latest in a long-running series of territorial flare-ups between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. In 1962, China and India engaged in a bloody border war, and skirmishes have continued to break out sporadically in the decades since.
Saturday’s statement outlined proposals intended to strengthen direct lines of communication between the two nations’ militaries, “in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs.”
Addressing the media in Wuhan Saturday, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, said the two countries had the “maturity and the wisdom” to handle their differences through peaceful discussion.
“On the issue of the India-China boundary question, the two leaders endorsed the work of the special representatives in their efforts to find a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement,” he said.
Other longtime sore points between the two governments include China’s ardent backing of Pakistan, India’s arch rival, and New Delhi’s sheltering of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing considers a separatist traitor.
Clear the air
Billed as an “informal” summit rather than a more traditional state visit, the meeting has been interpreted as an attempt to reset relations and rebuild trust between the two neighboring powers.
On Friday afternoon, Modi and Xi had a one-on-one meeting before touring the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, home to some of China’s oldest cultural relics.
Images posted by Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar on social media showed Modi being welcomed to the museum with an elaborate Chinese cultural performance. “India and China’s cultural connect goes back many centuries,” Kumar said on his official Twitter feed.
Other pictures showed Xi accompanying Modi throughout the exhibition as the Indian leader played musical instruments and viewed the displays.
On Saturday, images published on Chinese state media showed the two leaders walking casually along the banks of Wuhan’s East Lake, an area made famous in the 1970s when it was used as a retreat by China’s then-leader Mao Zedong.
The statement also outlined plans by the two leaders to “push forward bilateral trade and investment,” though it included no specifics on how this might be achieved.
Writing in the Hindustan Times on the eve of the summit, Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui described the two countries as being at a “critical stage of economic development and modernization,” pointing out that economic and trade cooperation between the two nations has surged in recent years.
Between India and China, their collective population and economies comprise more than 2.6 billion people and 17.6% of the global economy.
China is India’s largest trading partner with a total of $84 billion in bilateral trade last year. But the economic relationship is dwarfed by the US-China trade volume, which stood at almost $600 billion.
Referencing the rising threat of US protectionism, Luo stressed the importance of maintaining free and open cross-border trade. “With the current backlash against globalization, a heart-to-heart dialogue between the two leaders will promote free trade,” read the op-ed.
It comes as China is engaged in an escalating battle over trade with the Trump administration in the United States, which has threatened tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods.
In a report published in the state-owned China Daily Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying that “great cooperation between the two great nations of China and India will create global influence.”
“China would like to make joint efforts with India to build a closer development partnership and promote cooperation in all areas,” said Xi.
Speaking to CNN, Madhav Das Nalapat, director of the geopolitics department at Manipal University in India, described the warming ties as recognition among the countries’ leadership that India and China would have to work together in order to make the “21st century the Asian century.”
“The Asian century, frankly, is at the core of this summit,” said Nalapat. “They are going to work hard on creating a very strong relationship, on creating oxygen that can pour down and help solve problems at the lower level.”
CNN’s Steven Jiang contributed to this report.