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Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping hold talks during informal Wuhan meeting

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met many times since the former came to power in May 2014. Photo: PTI

Wuhan/New Delhi: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday said he looked forward to close communication with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which could help take their bilateral relationship to the next level.

Xi said this during an unprecedented “informal” summit with Modi in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Modi, who arrived in Wuhan early Friday, began his discussions with Xi after an elaborate welcome ceremony.

“PM @narendramodi was welcomed at the Hubei Provincial Museum with an impressive cultural performance. India and China cultural connect goes back many centuries and is reflected in present times through the popularity of Bollywood, yoga and other aspects of Indian culture,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a Twitter post.

“And the much awaited informal summit gets underway! PM @narendramodi warmly welcomed by Chinese President Xi on his arrival at Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan. The two leaders had a one-on-one meeting during which they exchanged views on solidifying our bilateral relationship,” Kumar said in another post.

According to a report by news agency Reuters, Xi told Modi that he hoped their meeting opens a new chapter for bilateral ties.

The two leaders were later joined by their delegations. The Indian delegation included national security adviser Ajit Doval, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, Indian ambassador to Beijing Gautam Bambawale and the joint secretary in charge of China, Pranay Verma.

Modi offered to host the next informal summit with Xi in India next year, a proposal which elicited a positive response from the Chinese president. “In the past five years, we have achieved a lot. We have met each other on many occasions,” Xi said. “I look forward to in-depth communication with your excellency and ensure we can build common understanding and help to take the China-India relationship to the next level.”

The summit is being seen as an effort by India and China to repair trust and improve ties that were hit by a tense 73-day-long military standoff over Bhutan’s Doklam plateau last year. The standoff rocked ties that were already seen as tense after India refused to attend a China-organized conference on its flagship multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

There was also friction over China blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as Beijing’s refusal to back India’s attempts to get Pakistan-based militant Maulana Masood Azhar named a terrorist.

Besides discussions, the two leaders will also have a one-on-one dinner at a state guest house by Wuhan’s famous East Lake. Modi and Xi will resume their interaction on Saturday. The two leaders are expected to go for a lakeside walk and a boat ride before winding up their talks over lunch.

Modi and Xi have met many times since the former came to power in May 2014. Xi visited India in September 2014 and was hosted by Modi at the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat. In 2015, Modi was hosted in the Chinese city of Xian. Besides this, they have met on the sidelines of international conferences.

But the Wuhan meet is seen as their first informal summit which is not expected to yield a formal joint statement. It is seen as a meet aimed to forge consensus to resolve thorny issues with officials expected to follow up on the decisions taken without announcing any agreements. Modi on his part hailed centuries-old China-India ties, telling Xi that the nations have a “big opportunity” to work together for the benefit of their people and the world.

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