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he signs were out there. In­dia took ex­tra care to hon­our Chi­nese sen­si­tiv­i­ties on the Dalai Lama, and China en­dorsed In­dia’s de­mand to in­clude a spe­cific anti-ter­ror­ism sec­tion in the BRICS’ Xi­a­men sum­mit in Septem­ber, barely a week after the sud­den end to a 72-day bor­der stand-off. The blus­ter gave way to quiet di­plo­macy and the sabre-rat­tling was re­placed by low-key com­mu­ni­ca­tion. China’s English news­pa­per, The Global Times, a mouth­piece of the gov­ern­ment, even in­voked an old Chi­nese proverb to de­scribe the re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and In­dia to­day: Friends are of­ten made after a fight. After the Dok­lam stand-off on which in­dia to­day did a cover story ask­ing if there would be war, there was a calm in­ter­rupted only by a se­ries of high-level vis­its be­gin­ning with Chi­nese foreign min­is­ter Wang Yi’s In­dia trip in De­cem­ber. The el­e­va­tion of Vi­jay Gokhale, for­mer am­bas­sador to Bei­jing, to the post of Foreign Sec­re­tary, has­tened this break­ing of ice, with three sig­nif­i­cant vis­its to China in quick suc­ces­sion in April—of Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Ajit Do­val, Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj and De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man. The grand cul­mi­na­tion? The visit of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to Wuhan for in­for­mal talks with new­lyem­pow­ered Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, re­cently made de facto “pres­i­dent for life”.

Un­der Prime Min­is­ter Modi, In­dia has pur­sued a more prag­matic ap­proach to in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, whether it was not let­ting pro­to­col get in the way of his vis­it­ing for­mer Pak­istan prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif’s home town to at­tend his grand-daugh­ter’s wed­ding in 2015 or invit­ing Xi to Ahmed­abad in 2017. He has not al­ways fol­lowed the rules, mix­ing sur­prise moves, such as an in­vi­ta­tion to Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, with grand ges­tures, such as host­ing all 10 ASEAN lead­ers for the Re­pub­lic Day cel­e­bra­tions this year as chief guests to mark the 25th an­niver­sary of the Asia-Pa­cific club. Pro­mot­ing se­cu­rity in the In­dian Ocean, man­ag­ing the dif­fi­cult neigh­bour­hood, deal­ing firmly with Pak­istan on ter­ror­ism, re­vi­tal­is­ing the Act East pol­icy, strength­en­ing bonds with the US and Ja­pan, en­gag­ing with Europe, build­ing stronger links with the Gulf coun­tries while also fully nor­mal­is­ing ties with Is­rael, pre­serv­ing the close­ness ofties with Rus­sia and both stand­ing up to and en­gag­ing with China are the broad as­pects of the emerg­ing Modi world view.

The two lead­ers will meet each other again at the Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion sum­mit in early June. Un­der Xi, China is said to be prac­tis­ing what its state me­dia calls ‘Xi­plo­macy’ which com­bines strong na­tion­al­ism and as­sertive­ness on China’s core in­ter­ests and ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes. With Amer­ica re­treat­ing from global af­fairs ex­cept oc­ca­sion­ally threat­en­ing to nuke North Korea and ac­tu­ally bomb­ing Syria, China is poised for a new proac­tive ap­proach, mov­ing away from non-in­ter­fer­ence in in­ter­na­tional dis­putes and its past prac­tice of not main­tain­ing foreign mil­i­tary bases. Xi calls this the “great re­ju­ve­na­tion of the Chi­nese na­tion”, which cou­pled with a bet­ter life for peo­ple at home, some­thing he de­scribes as the “Chi­nese dream”, is how he plans to bol­ster the le­git­i­macy of the Com­mu­nist Party of China. An in­sight­ful report from our Bei­jing cor­re­spon­dent As­so­ciate Edi­tor Ananth Kr­ish­nan on the Xi Doc­trine explains how China wants to be a sta­tus su­per­power val­i­dated not by what it is do­ing, but with a fo­cus on what it needs— re­sources and mar­kets.

The thaw comes at a crit­i­cal time for both coun­tries. The ris­ing tide of pro­tec­tion­ism that is threat­en­ing the world or­der has left both alarmed, as has a pe­riod of un­usual global un­cer­tainty. China, es­pe­cially, is un­nerved by Trump’s threats of a trade war. There are other global is­sues like cli­mate change where both coun­tries are on the same page. This sum­mit of the lead­ers of the two most pop­u­lous coun­tries in the world with­out any for­mal agenda is un­prece­dented and could be his­toric in many ways.

Group Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor Raj Chen­gappa, who has cov­ered foreign af­fairs for decades, co-wrote this is­sue’s cover story, putting this ex­tra­or­di­nary sum­mit in per­spec­tive amid the see­saw­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries. The thorny bi­lat­eral is­sues are un­likely to be re­solved overnight but if they can avoid con­fronta­tion in the fu­ture and deal jointly with some global is­sues—that would be great progress.

(Aroon Purie)

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