Modi, Xi move on from Sabarmati riverfront to East Lake

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New Delhi: As PM Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping prepare to meet later this week, India and China are working to ensure maximum number of one-on-one engagements between the two leaders in an informal, picturesque setting on banks of East Lake in Wuhan.
East Lake is one of the largest urban freshwater lakes in China and a Xi-Modi meeting on its banks is the certain to enliven the memories of Modi’s dinner date with Xi on Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad in 2014.
Modi and Xi will hope though that the meeting in Wuhan, an automobile hub in central China, will prove to be far more useful in improving a relationship encumbered by mutual distrust, as obvious most recently from the Doklam military standoff.
Official sources here said that contrary to what is believed, the informal meeting, described as a milestone by China, had been in the works for the past 8 months. It was first mooted by China in September last when Modi met Xi on the sidelines of the Brics summit in Xiamen. Xiamen has been one of the few bright spots in the relationship in the past few years as it was here that China for the first time allowed a mention of Pakistan based terror groups in the Brics declaration. A few months later though, China again blocked the proposed UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammedchief Masood Azhar.
Official sources said the two leaders are expected to focus on bilateral ties mostly at the macro level. While Modi is expected to bring up the issue of international terrorism, a source said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he will urge Xi to ensure that China doesn’t prevent UN from banning Azhar. “The idea is not to go too much into the specifics which can be taken care of later,” said an official.
According to former Indian ambassador to China Ashok Kanth, the meeting will allow the two leaders to look for a new paradigm in the relationship which has been dominated in the past few years by differences over outstanding issues.
“I believe they’ll focus on larger strategic interests, apart from global geopolitical trends, and not go into micro issues,” said Kanth.
“the meeting is significant also because of the messaging. It signifies that both leaders want to keep the relationship on track,” he added.
It’s also important for Beijing that Vijay Gokhale, who is an expert on China affairs, is now foreign secretary. Beijing believes that Gokhale will be much more considerate of China’s position on important issues, including Tibet.
“Gokhale is not just familiar with China but can also read Beijing’s mind,” a Chinese diplomat told a few Indian journalists on condition of anonymity at an official event recently.
Chinese diplomats privately complain bitterly about how India on the issue of NSG membership spoke to the US a lot more than it did to China. Beijing seems to believe that under Gokhale India will shed a bit of the strategic ambiguity it sought to maintain in ties with China and that this can only help the relationship.

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