WUHAN: In a major takeaway from the Modi-Xi informal summit, India and China have agreed to work
jointly on an economic project in Afghanistan, a development that can be expected to discomfit Pakistan
that has worked strenuously to exclude India from a region it considers as its strategic backyard.
An official source, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that India and China discussed
participation in a project and that details are being worked out through diplomatic channels. An Indian
and Chinese convergence on Afghanistan taking the shape of a joint venture is ground-breaking.
“It’s a sign that the two leaders, to an extent, did manage to address the distrust which has marked
ties in the past few years,” said a source.
Pakistan’s reaction to the development will be keenly watched as Islamabad is in talks with Beijing to
extend its economic corridor with China (CPEC) to Afghanistan. An India-China initiative — in a country
where Pakistan-backed terrorists have targeted Indian nationals and projects — is at odds with
Islamabad’s expectations of its “all- weather” ally.
The Xi-Modi summit also saw the leaders giving “strategic guidance” to respective militaries to build
trust and understanding and calling for “prudent management of differences with mutual sensitivity”.
They recognised the “common threat” of terrorism and iterated “strong and resolute” opposition to
terrorism. “They committed to cooperate on counter-terrorism,” the Indian statement on the summit said.
While foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale continued to maintain that the summit wasn’t about specifics, it
was obvious from his remarks, and the press release, that Modi outlined India’s concerns on terrorism
and indeed the border dispute in some detail even as the overarching objective was to forge a common
understanding of “future direction of India-China relations” while prudently managing differences.
Asked about whether issues like China’s opposition to India’s NSG membership and a UN ban on Pakistan-
based Jaish-e-Mohamed chief Masood Azhar were raised, Gokhale said it is significant that the countries
agreed to strengthen dialogue mechanisms that will address such concerns.
“The two important takeaways are that we have agreed to have more such summits and also the agreement
between the leaders for greater strategic communication at the leadership level which allows for free
and frank discussions on all matters of interest,” said Gokhale. “I think it is important to bear in
mind that a new kind of diplomatic arrangement has been arrived at… it will have a positive impact
moving ahead,” he said.
As reported by TOI on Friday, the leaders had six engagements, including almost an hour-long boat ride.
While agreeing that disputes like Doklam are avoidable, the leaders underscored the importance of
maintaining peace and tranquility in all areas of the India-China border region in the larger interest
of the overall development of bilateral relations.
Indian officials did not reveal whether Xi had raised the issue of India’s participation in Belt and
Road Initiative (BRI), but officials said after the meetings that India’s position had not changed one
In the immediate run, it is the decision to cooperate in Afghanistan which is certain to catch
attention, not only in Islamabad but also in other world capitals. This follows the China-Pakistan-
Afghanistan trilateral earlier this month where Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said China and
Pakistan could look at extending CPEC to Afghanistan.
“Both India and China are important players in Afghanistan and there’s no reason they can’t work together
for economic benefits of the war-torn country,” said an official. India until now has been
wary of growing Chinese role in Afghanistan because of Beijing’s partnership with Pakistan. However,
…not just China but also Russia, India’s most important strategic partner, now fully backs Kabul’s
peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.
In keeping with the Astana consensus, Modi and Xi also agreed that both sides have the maturity and
wisdom to handle the differences through peaceful discussion, bearing in mind the importance of
respecting each other’s sensitivities, concerns, and aspirations.