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Modi-Xi meet: Rewards and risks in PM's 'bold' diplomatic move
PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping

  Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to China on April 27 and 28 for an unprecedented informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The visit is being seen in Delhi and Beijing as a "bold" move by both sides to reset ties, but not without risks. The summit marks an effort by both sides to reset relations after a troubled year in 2017 over the 72-day border stand-off, that started in Xiamen last year at the BRICS meeting that took place days after the August 28 disengagement at Doklam.

"It is certainly a very bold step," former Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told ANI. "The fact that they have agreed on an informal summit shows that the two leaders realise the importance of this relationship. They have taken on the responsibility themselves on putting it on a better course."

"I think what is different about this particular summit would be that it is an informal summit so the meeting will be in a very informal and casual environment. The agenda would be open, they'll spend lot of time over two days and there'll be different kind of conversations, which would be much more personal and much more interactive in comparison with the formal meetings."

He said, "Indians should see it as a very sincere effort on the part of both countries and leaders to improve their relationships. It is in our national interest that it succeeds so good wishes from everybody should be there for the success of this summit."

The unexpected trip was announced on Sunday in Beijing after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held key bilateral talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in the sprawling Diaoyutai state guesthouse.

Wuhan, in central Hubei province, sits on the famed Yangtze river. The city was previously used by Mao Zedong as a favoured retreat, and his sprawling lakeside villa once hosted world leaders there.

Travelling to China for a summit meeting with Xi-that too only a month before an already scheduled June trip for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) security summit-presents a bold diplomatic gambit by Modi.

Stabilising relations with China at a time of global uncertainty could yield dividends, both from attempting to avoid frictions ahead of an election year, and also maximising the economic dividend from the world's second-largest economy when it is embroiled with a trade spat with the United States and seeking alternative options.

Yet the visit could also pose risks if it fails to achieve the rapprochement that both sides have been seeking.

The focus of the two day-summitry, analysts said, is likely to be more on managing, rather than resolving, long-pending issues, from the border dispute to recent differences over Xi's pet Belt and Road Initiative.

Both sides still described it as a possibly historic event in relations. Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, said the visit to Wuhan in Hubei province at Xi's invitation would be "a new milestone" in relations.

Swaraj said both sides shared the view that "commonalities outweigh our differences and that we must build on our convergences while seeking a mutually acceptable resolution to our differences". The Wuhan meeting, she said, "flows from the understanding reached by the two leaders last year that India-China ties are a factor for stability in a period of global changes and have a common responsibility for peace, security and prosperity in the world."

Swaraj also thanked China for resuming data sharing on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers in 2018, as also the Kailash yatra this year.

The Chinese foreign minister echoed her view that "common interests far outweigh our differences. "The two countries have no choice other than pursuing everlasting friendship, mutually beneficial cooperation and a common development," he said. "China and India are two major countries with global influence. It falls to both countries to jointly uphold the UN-centered multilateral system, to jointly preserve the WTO-centred international trading rules and to joint tackle terrorism, climate change and a host of other global challenges," he said.
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