It is official. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping did more than exchange pleasantries in Bali, Indonesia last year. The ministry of external affairs confirmed that there was certainly a conversation.
“During the Bali G20 meeting, Prime Minister and President Xi, at the conclusion of the dinner hosted, exchanged courtesies and spoke about the need to stabilize bilateral relations,’’ said spokesperson Arindam Bagchi at the weekly press briefing on Thursday.
This clarification came two days after the Chinese read-out on the meeting of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval with his counterpart Wang Yi, Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China claimed that the two leaders had reached a “consensus’’ at Bali. In the read-out, issued by the Chinese, suggested that the leaders reached “an important consensus on stabilizing China-India relations.’’ This was issued in Mandarin but had been quoted by news outlets.
Modi and Xi had come face to face in Bali last year, for the first time since the Galwan stand-off. This encounter had been eagerly awaited and there was much expectation. The meeting then, was characterized as pleasantries exchanged. The clarification from the MEA today, suggests that there was a conversation. “President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi reached an important consensus on stabilizing China-India relations in Bali,’’ the Chinese press release has been quoted as saying in news media outlet.
The MEA press release on the meeting between Doval and Wang Yi did not mention the consensus. Doval instead told Wang Yi that the continuing stand-off has “eroded strategic trust and the public and political basis of the relationship”.
“NSA emphasised the importance of continuing efforts to fully resolve the situation and restore peace and tranquillity in the border areas, so as to remove impediments to normalcy in bilateral relations. The two sides agreed that the India-China bilateral relationship is significant not only for the two countries but also for the region and world,” it said.
This is not the first time that there have been different interpretations of meeting with the Chinese. The different versions of the meeting had been baffling experts for the past two days. But it is interesting that the Chinese chose to reveal this "consensus" at this time. It is still a mystery as to why the MEA was not forthcoming about the consensus.
China has chosen to bring up the consensus when there is a month to go with the G20. It also comes at a time when India has been much more assertive about the relationship being far from normal. At a media briefing on the completion of nine years of Modi government, external affairs minister said that India’s relations with all the major powers had improved except China due to the three-year-long standoff. “The fact is that the relationship is impacted and it will continue to be impacted… If there is any expectation that somehow we will normalise (the ties) when the border situation is not normal, that’s not a well-founded expectation,” he said.