Modi's Wuhan visit will be landmark, says former Chinese diplomat
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Wuhan in China for the Friday summit with President Xi Jinping could be transformative for the relationship and leave a mark like Rajiv Gandhi did in 1988, says former Chinese diplomat and strategic scholar Gao Zhikai.
Gao was the former translator to then Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Deng hosted Rajiv in the famous ice-breaking visit of 1988, bringing ties out of the post-1962 deep freeze.
Even though this visit is less formal-there will be no joint statement-it may still greatly shape the future of relations. Speaking to India Today in Beijing, Gao said, "The 1988 visit by Rajiv Gandhi broke the ice. PM Modi's will be another important landmark visit because both India and China have changed a great deal over the years and face important challenges and tasks."
"The summit will likely cement the friendship between India and China and bring to a new height relations between the two countries," he said. "I think it will turn the relationship into a new nature of relations, hopefully eliminating the barriers and obstacles."
Gao said the turnaround in ties after the Doklam stand-off had been rapid.
China's calculus in reaching out to Modi-and Modi reciprocating-appear to be driven by both bilateral and global calculations.
China's Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said one reason Beijing saw value in this "informal" summit was to build a deeper relationship between Modi and Xi.
Comparing the two, he said, "Xi and Modi both have strategic vision and historic responsibility. They are both widely supported by their people and have devoted a lot of energy to this relationship. 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."
Kong revealed why Beijing chose Wuhan in central China as the venue. Former leader Mao Zedong had previously hosted world leaders there in his sprawling lakeside villa-a possible venue for Modi and Xi's "walk and talk"-but Kong suggested more geographic reasons.
"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 centre of China, so we wanted to extend this invitation to Wuhan."
There are also global motivations. 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 idea is to find common cause even while shelving thorny issues such as the border, and find an "overarching" blueprint to manage ties, even if those difficult issues are likely to remain unresolved for the time being.
Gao, who is also Vice President of the Centre for China and Globalisation, said: "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 globalisation. It's not only important for China but also India."