Modi-Xi Wuhan summit: Are Kim Jong-un, Trump elephants in the room?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit China later this week to hold "informal summit" talks with President Xi Jinping. The talks will take place on April 27-28 in Wuhan. This is PM Modi's fourth visit to China in as many years. He will be making another visit to China in June for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.
Though informal summit talks seem to be emerging as an alternative across the world to improve relationship driven by the visions of leaders, India and China had looked rather reluctant to tread this path. However, many believe that the informal talks held between Modi and Xi during G20 summit in July last year in Germany led to both leaders pushing their diplomatic and military bureaucracy to defuse Doklam stand-off.
Modi's China visit follows a series of efforts made by both the countries to normalise the relationship between the two countries post-Doklam. Both countries have concerns that they expect the other to address. India seems to have taken the initiative last month on the back of a series of meetings at diplomatic levels. The Modi government asked officials to skip Tibetan leader Dalai Lama's functions planned to mark 60 years of Tibetan government in-exile.
India, China had a tough 2017.
Last year was a particularly bad year for bilateral relation between India and China. Besides the 72-day Doklam stand-off, India and China sparred over a range of issues that included Beijing blocking New Delhi's entry to the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), using veto power to help UN-designated terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and open support to Pakistan even as it continues to sponsor cross-border terrorism.
On the other hand, India snubbed China over its Belt and Road Initiative better known as One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan, which is the signature project of President Xi Jinping. India is the only neighbour apart from Bhutan to skip OBOR. The past one and a half years has also seen China's growing influence in Indo-Pacific Ocean region and as close as Maldives.
On all the fronts, India-China bilateral relations seem to be stuck in bureaucratic-diplomatic knots and military strategies. At the same time, North Korea has become the nation of interest for both Modi and Xi regimes.
Kim Jong-un could be an unintentional game-changer.
Ever since taking over the control of administration in North Korea in 2012, Kim Jong-un has shown "suspicion" towards Chinese leadership. He also broke from tradition of meeting the Chinese president after assuming power in Pyongyang.
Kim Jong-un has more seriously pursued to establish "friendly" relationship with South Korea. Kim Jong-un is scheduled to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the demilitarised zone between the two countries. South Korea has turned off all the propaganda loudspeakers blaring anti-North Korean news and views from the borders to pave way for the summit meet this Friday, the first day of Modi-Xi meet in Wuhan, modern China's founder Mao Zedong's favourite resort in the central part of the country.
There is much at stake for China if the two Koreas actually turn "friendly". There are talks that the Korean War that was stopped in 1953 may formally be ended by means of a treaty with military generals from the two sides signing on the dotted lines. This would mean that North and South Koreas practically become one with a strong presence of US military in the southern part.
Trump also has a role to play.
Then there is US President Donald Trump, who remains untested and somewhat "not trusted" global diplomacy. But he along with Kim Jong-un, another maverick leader, is taking strides on the Korean peninsula that may change the geostrategic equations in Asia. If the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un later this year goes off well, it will not only end isolation of North Korea but also bring an end to China's primary role in East Asia and Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing seems to be preparing for the changed scenario. It has conveyed to both India and Japan -- two countries that China considers as West-leaning rivals -- that it is willing to walk an extra mile to improve bilateral relations. The informal summit meet between Modi and Xi seems to be a part of efforts by China.
Reports suggest that the invitation for an informal meet between Modi and Xi came from China while India weighed the pros and cons before agreeing to such summit talks. Modi is only the third leader -- and India only the second country -- with whom Xi will have informal summit talks, and the first on the Chinese soil. He has held similar meetings with former US President Barack Obama in California and President Trump in Florida.