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Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping to Build On Wuhan Chemistry During Sidebar in the 'City of Tsingtao Beer'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit will give them a chance to take stock after the highly optically successful ‘informal summit’ in Wuhan in April.

Zakka Jacob | CNN-News18

Updated:June 8, 2018, 10:40 PM IST
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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet on the sidelines of the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in the coastal city of Qingdao in Eastern China this weekend.

The city of Qingdao, where Xi will host leaders of the 10-member grouping, is most famous for the Tsingtao Beer. It is built around the Tsingtao Beer Factory and Museum. Though the city maybe in high spirits, leaders of the SCO will have some contentious issues to resolve.

This is the first meeting of the SCO that India and Pakistan will be attending as full members. Both countries were inducted as full members in last year’s summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

For India, it was always a difficult choice whether to be part of a grouping where Russia and China call the shots. What won the argument in favour of membership was the unique access SCO would give India to enter the central Asian oil-rich markets, something India has been eyeing for well over 20 years now.

There is no scheduled meeting between Modi and Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain, but international diplomacy is the art of the possible. Expect the unexpected.

Modi will also meet Xi, one-on-one ahead of the summit. This will be the second time both leaders are meeting in the last couple of months. It will also give them a chance to take stock after the highly optically successful ‘informal summit’ in Wuhan in April.

Both countries have come a long way since the 72-day standoff in Doklam last year. India has taken a series of steps to ease frayed Chinese nerves and the Chinese have also responded in kind.

India’s decision to play down the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet did go down well with the mandarins in Zhongnanhai, the real seat of power in Beijing. That marked the start of a process of rapprochement and trying to mend the relationship. It is not where both countries would ideally like it to be, but at least it is out of the dumps.

In Qingdao, India will also get a chance to balance its carefully poised relationship with Russia, in the aftermath of increasing American pressure to back off from buying the Russian made S-400 air defence system.

India has made it amply clear to the Americans that New Delhi’s decision to buy which weapons and from whom is not up for negotiation. Yet, the strategic partnership with the US is very much intact. A tough balancing act in front of the impetuous President of the United States, Donald Trump.

It is also the first time that leaders of some of the most important countries in Asia will be meeting after the US pulled out of the historic Iran deal. Iran will have a seat on the table as an observer country in SCO. Russia has been long pushing for Iran to be included as a full member. If that were to come through in this summit, or if the SCO were to move in that direction, it could further strain ties between Washington and this region. India will have an extremely unenviable task on hand.

But chances are the SCO summit itself may get overshadowed by events that will happen just a couple of days later in Singapore. At the historic summit of the leaders of the US and North Korea, the first ever time such a thing would have happened in human history.

Singapore is all decked up for this historic summit, but it will cast a long shadow over the proceedings in Qingdao. There is already a feeling that China is trying to be nice to some of its neighbours with whom it has had contentious relations, including Japan and India, only because they were spooked by the speed and scale of developments in the Korean peninsula.

China had for long led the international community to believe it was the only country which had some leverage with the despotic regime in Pyongyang. China has clearly been blindsided by the speed with which Trump, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae In have stepped in to defuse tensions in the Korean peninsula and move it towards a historic peace agreement.

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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