Brics 2017: Modi and team took off from China satisfied, but differences remain

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his entourage of India’s top diplomats took off from a sunny Xiamen on Tuesday afternoon a fairly satisfied lot after the BRICS summit.

The Doklam impasse was over, with New Delhi managing to emerge from it, if not a winner, at least on equal terms despite withdrawing troops; Pakistan-based terror groups were mentioned in the BRICS statement under China’s current chair and on Chinese soil, proving to be vindication on India’s stand against terrorism and India’s pitch for FDI and global governance reforms at the summit was heard.

Earlier in the day, foreign secretary S Jaishankar made it a point not to mention Doklam – called Donglang by the China — during his 10-minute interaction with international media on the bilateral meeting between Modi and President Xi Jinping.

The closest he went was to mention “situation” – twice.

Neither did the ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) spokesperson, Geng Shuang, mention it when he took questions on the military impasse at the regular press briefing in Beijing.

Both mentioned the need to have a peaceful and tranquil border.

The responses from the two governments were clearly coordinated to send a message out – New Delhi and Beijing were trying hard to move forward, leaving behind the military impasse which had threatened to hijack diplomatic ties.

One needs to simply scratch the surface of the BRICS bonhomie to find that China’s indignation over Doklam is quite raw.

Official news agency Xinhua’s report on the Modi-Xi meeting – their 9th one-on-one – made it a point to mention the impasse.

“Xi and Modi’s meeting came following a military stand-off lasting more than two months after more than 270 armed Indian troops with two bulldozers crossed the boundary in mid-June into the Donglang (Doklam) area in the Chinese territory to obstruct infrastructure construction,” the Xinhua report said.

“On August 28, China confirmed that India had withdrawn personnel and equipment from Donglang, and said its armed forces would strengthen patrolling and defence of the area to resolutely safeguard the country’s sovereign security,” the report added.

If the Chinese government had so wanted – and had it been indifferent to the fact that Doklam resolution is being projected as India’s diplomatic success — it would have instructed Xinhua not to bring it up at all.

Indignation over Doklam aside, China also surprised many with endorsing the BRICS statement with names of terror groups based on the soil of its all-weather strategic ally, Pakistan.

Islamabad was possibly informed in advance about the development by Beijing but would still be worried.

It doesn’t of course mean there’s a guarantee that Beijing will let through India’s UN application to ban JeM chief, Masood Azhar. But it will also put China in a bit of spot if it does block the move next time.

The decision didn’t please everyone; Chinese experts, who rarely criticise government decisions, told HT that it was a “costly mistake”.

Interestingly, Modi flew out of Xiamen to Myanmar where India and China are elbowing each other for influence. That’s another story.

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