'The Chinese made their point repeatedly after August 5. They backed Pakistan more overtly than in the past. Kashmir is not completely off their radar.'
'But in order to keep the atmosphere surrounding the Chennai meeting, they did not discuss Kashmir.'
"China does want India to go closer to the US and is nervous about that. It does not want the pressure from the US to hurt them further because the Chinese economy has slowed down. Xi Jinping's position is already weakened and could be weakened further if this continues. Hence these were the imperatives behind keeping the atmosphere congenial," Jayadeva Ranade, former additional secretary, Cabinet secretariat, and President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih in the first of a two-part interview.
What did India gain from the Chennai summit?
There was a limited agenda and there were limited expectations. The few areas where we hoped and tried for progress did materialise but it needs to be recognised that the agenda was limited.
Despite the hype -- which was part of soft diplomacy -- the hard issues were essentially to keep the border quiet and secondly, try to make progress in reducing the trade deficit.
These were the main agenda points.
How did we fare on those two agendas?
Yes, there were agreements about more confidence building measures. That may not mean anything in itself, but it is an incremental movement forward and should not be dismissed.
China has invited our defence minister which is a symbolic move of a high level confidence building measure. It has asked for a meeting of the special representatives of both sides. The last such meeting happened in September.
Xi Jinping has agreed to the reduction of the trade deficit and the setting up of a mechanism to address this.
I don't expect things to happen straight away. The Chinese are not only tough negotiators but they will wait to see how the environment changes before moving on it.
Trade is hampered because of the artificial barriers imposed by the Chinese so it is going to take time, but at least it is the first step.
And what did China gain?
China has tried to project that it is going to be more attentive to India.
Secondly, they did not raise contentious issues. They didn't raise Kashmir. They did not mention Pakistan, though Xi Jinping spoke to Modi about his meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan in Beijing.
Modi did not make any comment about that meeting which was wise -- and he kept it at the India-China level.
Of course, they would have discussed global issues concerning Trump and the trade wars with the United States, but at the bilateral level they kept away from contentious issues.
Why do you think the Chinese kept Kashmir out of the meeting?
They made their point repeatedly after August 5 because it affects them directly because of Aksai Chin. It is not completely off their radar.
They backed Pakistan more overtly than in the past by raising the issue in the UN security council. Their foreign minister raised Kashmir at the UN general assembly and made reference to it being settled according to the UN security council resolution.
Pakistan army Chief General Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran Khan met Chinese leaders in Beijing and referred to Kashmir and it came out specifically in the joint communiqué.
The Chinese made their point very clear and in addition, the Chinese ambassador in Islamabad mentioned Kashmir and self determination in the same breath.
China made its position explicit, but in order to keep the atmosphere surrounding the Chennai meeting, their foreign ministry spokesman gave a statement before Xi's arrival that Kashmir would not be a discussed at the Chennai summit.
That was to keep the atmosphere good. China does want India to go closer to the US and is nervous about that. It does not want the pressure from the US to hurt them further because the Chinese economy has slowed down, the technology sector is badly hit.
Xi Jinping's position is already weakened and could be weakened even more if this continues. Hence these were the imperatives behind keeping the atmosphere congenial.
You had written after Wuhan that the summit was a risky gambit. In retrospect, was it a risky gamble and how did Wuhan alter Indo-China ties?
I don't think Wuhan altered India-China ties. Even before Dokalam the relation was sliding down.
Wuhan was an attempt at correcting the downward slide. The initiative had come from the Chinese first and our side accepted it.
It was a good move and it was a gambit by Modi because if there was a repeat of Dokalam or if things had not worked out, he would have got a lot of flak.
To some extent the situation eased a bit after Wuhan, but tensions remained. There has been greater strain in the last few months.
By itself it the summit won't solve it, but it brought about an effort by both sides that they are willing to ease the tension and try and see how they can get along.
There have been two informal summits and a third has been announced. How have informal summits changed the contours of India-China relations?
I think repeated meetings will help to reduce tension.
Both sides, according to my assessment, have limited agendas at the moment. India doesn't want problems at the border. India does not want China to back Pakistan.
China is stronger and economically more powerful, and India does not want China to get overactive in the region, it is already active enough, so we have a limited agenda.
The Chinese have their own agenda. They want to be number one. They have a problem with the US who they want to oust from the number one slot. Plus, their economy has slowed down.
There have been double the number of worker protests as said by China's official labour bureau, protests by ex-servicemen about pension etc. Xi Jinping abolishing term limits for president has resulted in senior party members in such a tightly regulated society expressing concern about the threat of a return to Mao's era of one man rule.
All this is a direct criticism of Xi and the section of people unhappy with Xi is expanding.
Xi is conscious that if these forces gain strength, his position will become shaky. A third term for him is not such an easy proposition.
- Part 2: Can India trust China?