Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Mahabalipuram, on October 11, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Mahabalipuram: Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in India for a summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a time of tensions over Beijing joining Pakistan in opposing India's downgrading of Kashmir's autonomy and the ongoing lockdown in the disputed region.

Xi landed at the Chennai airport on Friday. India's foreign ministry says Xi and Modi will meet at the seaside temple town of Mamallapuram for talks on regional and global developments later Friday and Saturday.

Their meeting in Wuhan in China in April last year also was preceded by tensions caused by a 10-week standoff between their armed forces on the Bhutan border.

India also is concerned about China's moves to build strategic and economic ties with its neighbours Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

Modi in veshti welcomes Chinese President

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was seen wearing the traditional Tamil attire of 'veshti' (white dhoti), half-sleeve white shirt and angavastram over his shoulder, when he welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram, also known Mahabalipuram, for the second informal India-China Summit.

Xi, who arrived earlier from Beijing, was equally casually attired in a white shirt and black trousers.

The two leaders are to do a spot of sight-seeing at Mahabalipuram, before they go for dinner being hosted by Modi.

The two leaders will have a guided tour of three monuments - Arjuna's penance, Panch Raths, and the Shore Temple, and then attend a cultural performance by the Kalakshetra foundation.

Modi and Xi 20191011
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Mamallapuram, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Xi and Modi are scheduled to hold informal summit talks this evening and on Saturday. Image Credit: PTI

Welcome in Tamil, Mandarin and English

Modi welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping in three languages - Tamil, Mandarin and English.

"President Xi Jinping! Welcome to India," Modi tweeted in English, attaching photos of the Chinese President arriving in Chennai and being received by Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit.

In another tweet in Tamil, Modi said that he was happy to note that Tamil Nadu was greeting Xi. "Let the relationship between India - China further get strengthened through this informal summit," he said, attaching the same photos.

He also tweeted a welcome in Mandarin, along with the photo of Xi being received by the Governor.

What the meeting means

Xi Jinping's "informal" seaside summit with Modi is aimed at mending relations between the historically prickly Asian giants after sharp words over Kashmir.

China was irked by India's August move to split Jammu and Kashmir in two because it will make the state's Ladakh region - part of which is claimed by Beijing - a separate Indian administrative territory.

India meanwhile has been enraged by China's diplomatic backing for Pakistan, which controls a much larger part of Kashmir.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian PM Narendra Modi 201910
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian PM Narendra Modi Image Credit: ANI

Part of Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure mega-programme is planned in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and Xi held talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan in Beijing just two days before meeting Modi.

When Xi said he supports Pakistan's "legitimate rights", India's foreign ministry thundered it was "not for other countries to comment on the internal affairs of India".

The Indian Express newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying Modi would urge Xi to be more "sensitive" to India's concerns, and to "explain to the Chinese president the reasons behind Delhi's decision on Kashmir".

Delhi feels Beijing has broken an understanding to be aware of each nation's "sensitivities and concerns", the paper said, noting India had stayed silent over the current upheaval in Hong Kong.

"Frankly, the optics surrounding this visit don't look very promising at the moment," Harsh Pant, an international relations professor at King's College London, told AFP.

China's backing of Pakistan "has left a very bad taste in India's mouth", Pant said.

India and China - thorns in the flesh

  • India and China - home to more than a third of humanity - have never been the best of friends, going to war in 1962 and engaging in a series of Himalayan standoffs since.
  • The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and long a thorn in China's side, has been allowed to live in and travel the world from his base Dharamsala in northern India since 1959.
  • In 2017 Delhi and Beijing staged an alarming two-month face-off on the Doklam plateau - claimed by China and Bhutan - when Chinese troops started building a road and India sent its forces to halt them.

Patch-up at Wuhan summit

However, the following year Xi and Modi patched things up in China's Wuhan. Their latest meeting, over elaborate meals and dance performances in Mahabalipuram on Friday and Saturday, is aimed at building on that.

Mahabalipuram - home to historical monuments that pay testament to India and China's ancient ties - has seen more than 40 Tibetans, including a prominent activist, reportedly detained ahead of the summit.

New pain points

But since Wuhan other irritants have emerged, including a reported "scuffle" in Ladakh last month and Indian military activities in the northern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, part of which Beijing claims.

India and Washington, seeking with others to counter China's growing regional assertiveness, have deepened military cooperation and India has moved closer to the Quad security dialogue with Japan, the United States and Australia.

On commerce India and China - both facing a protectionist America - want greater access to each other's markets, with India currently importing from China far more than it exports there.

Beijing also wants Delhi to ignore Western cyber-security concerns on Huawei - already a big player in the India mobile sector - and allow the telecoms firm to be part of 5G trials.

Huawei's "contribution to India's economic and social development is obvious to all," China's foreign ministry said this week, hoping Delhi would make "independent and objective judgments and decisions".