India, China high-level mechanism to consolidate people-to-people contact
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi will launch a high-level mechanism to consolidate people-to-people contacts at a meeting here on December 21, reflecting the growing warmth in bilateral ties since the informal Wuhan Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in April.
The inaugural meeting of the high-level people-to-people and cultural exchange mechanism will cap a year marked by a flurry of contacts between the top leadership of the two countries. Modi and Xi have met four times this year, with the latest being on the margins of the G20 Summit last month.
Diplomats familiar with the planning for the upcoming meeting said the new mechanism will “streamline and consolidate” contacts between India and China in fields such as education, sports, culture, film and tourism.
There are currently over 40 different groups working in these fields and they will be brought under the mechanism so that the top leadership of the two sides can give greater focus and impetus to such contacts, they said.
The launch of the mechanism is also a reflection of the importance attached by China to its ties with India, they added. China currently has a similar mechanism with the US, the European Union, the UK, Russia, France, Indonesia and South Africa.
Besides delegation-level talks between Swaraj and Wang, there will be a major cultural event featuring performances by artistes from both countries. Wang is also expected to call on Modi during hisvisit.
The people cited above said Wang’s visit will also provide an opportunity to the two sides to have a look at work done since the informal summit between Modi and Xi at Wuhan in April, a meeting that helped push forward bilateral ties in the aftermath of last year’s military standoff at Doklam near Sikkim border.
India’s decision to send its troops to Doklam (which China refers to as Donglang) to prevent the construction of a road by Chinese forces in an area claimed by Bhutan triggered a 73-day face-off and took bilateral relations to a new low.
China has also reached out to India to forge stronger economic cooperation against the backdrop of its trade war with the US. In a message to participants of a youth dialogue held here last month as part of the build-up to the launch of the new mechanism, Modi had spoken of the need to build a “Great Wall of Trust and Cooperation” between the two sides.
People familiar with the planning for the first meeting of the new mechanism said several other events will be held alongside, including a think tank forum, a media forum and a film festival featuring nine movies from each side. There are also proposals for exchanges between university chancellors and tourism exchanges focusing on Buddhist sites in both countries.
“The total number of visitors between the two sides every year is only one million, including 750,000 Indians travelling to China and 250,000 Chinese travelling to India. The figure is very low and can be significantly increased,” a person said.
Dhruva Jaishankar, a fellow in foreign policy studies at Brookings India, said the trend of normalisation of India-China ties that began about a year-and-half ago has continued after the Wuhan Summit. “There have been attempts by Beijing to play up the positives and this has been reciprocated by New Delhi to bring a semblance of normalcy in ties,” he said.