India, China vow to deepen bilateral ties with focus on trade

Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the airport in Kathmandu on Saturday. Xi is making the first state visit by a Chinese leader to Nepal in 23 years following his two days of talks in India. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

India, China vow to deepen bilateral ties with focus on trade

  • The two-day summit took place in the ancient temple city of Mamallapuram

NEW DELHI: At the end of their second informal summit in southern India on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said they would deepen their bilateral engagement and work toward a rules-based and inclusive international order. 

The leaders also agreed to set up a “high-level economic and trade dialogue mechanism with the objective of achieving enhanced trade and commercial relations, as well as to better balance trade between the two countries.”

The two-day summit took place in the ancient temple city of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO world heritage site close to Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The meeting will “add great momentum to India-China relations. This will benefit the people of our nations and the world,” Modi tweeted after the summit.

The first meeting between the two leaders was in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year, where they held six rounds of talks, in addition to some delegation-level discussions.

The summit, whose date was announced just two days prior to the meet, came on the backdrop of the recent tensions between India and Pakistan over New Delhi’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status on Aug. 5. 

Beijing supported Pakistan in raising India’s action in Kashmir at the UN General Assembly and criticized New Delhi’s unilateral actions in Kashmir. Xi’s visit to India came just two days after his meeting with Pakistan’s high-level delegation led by Imran Khan in Beijing.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told the media after the summit that the Kashmir “issue was not raised and discussed and India-China relations are not predicated to a single issue.”

Gokhale said that Xi apprised Modi of Khan’s visit to Beijing earlier this week.

A statement issued by the Indian Foreign Ministry after the summit said that both the leaders “evaluated the direction of bilateral relations in a positive light and discussed how India-China bilateral interaction can be deepened to reflect the growing role of both countries on the global stage.”

Trade seems to be the focal point of discussions between the two leaders, with the high-level ministerial level mechanism aimed at reducing trade gaps between the two neighbors.

According to India’s Commerce Ministry, India’s exports to China amounted to $13.33 billion in 2018, compared to imports of $76.38 billion.

“The mechanism will be led by the Indian finance minister and Chinese vice president ... the discussion will be on how to balance trade, how trade deficit will be addressed,” Gokhale added.

To take the bilateral relations to a new height, both the leaders “decided to designate 2020 as Year of India-China Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges and agreed that the 70th anniversary of the establishment of India-China “relations in 2020 will be fully utilized to deepen exchanges at all levels.”

International affairs expert Harsh V. Pant, of New Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), termed the summit as “quite underwhelming.”

“The Wuhan summit was far more substantive, at least on paper, than the Chennai one and this reflects reality of relationship at the ground. It is a very, very difficult relationship,” Pant said.

“The summitry of this kind is good between the two large neighbors where two leaders can exchange views. However, I don’t think it alters the reality at the ground,” he said.

Pant said that two major takeaways were “the discussion on trade and radicalization. Apart from this the talks were really generic.”

In the last summit “there were some proposals of India and China cooperating in some third countries, like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and all, but this time there was no such talk. This is the reality of Sino-India relationship today. For all the theater the reality is something different.”

Pant, however, welcomes the regular interactions with the top leadership of both the nations.

Manoj Kewalramani, a fellow at Bangalore-based think-tank the Takshashila Institution, said that the meet was “high on optics and there were hardly any tangible outcomes.”

However, he said that “high-level engagement has managed to instill some sense of stability in the bilateral relationship. Unlike the past summit few substantives issues have been discussed in the delegation level talks this time. Both sides emphasize peace at the disputed boundary and work together amid the changes underway in the international political and trading order.”

Afghan prisoner swap postponed, confirms Taliban spokesman

Updated 22 min 43 sec ago

Afghan prisoner swap postponed, confirms Taliban spokesman

  • Zabihullah Mujahid tells Arab News the Americans had yet to free Taliban detainees
  • The Afghan insurgent group is holding two university professors of American and Australian descent since 2016

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Friday a prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban did not take place since the Americans had not released three Taliban leaders.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday that three Taliban prisoners were going to be released in return for two academics of American and Australian descent who taught at the American University of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have kept the professors, Kevin King and Timothy John Weeks, in captivity since 2016.
Ghani also named the Taliban detainees who included: Anas Haqqani, brother of the Taliban deputy chief, Siraj ud Din Haqqani, his maternal uncle, Mali Khan, and Hafiz Rashid Omari, brother of the Taliban’s political negotiator, Mohammed Nabi Omari.
Mali Khan was arrested by the Americans in eastern Khost province in 2011.
Anas, who was inducted in the insurgent group’s negotiating team in February, was captured by US security officials after he visited Qatar in October 2014.
He was accompanied by another Taliban leader, Rashid, who had gone to Qatar to meet five Taliban leaders who had been freed from the Guantanamo prison. They were later handed over to the Afghan authorities.
In August 2016, an Afghanistan court had awarded Anas a death sentence.
An earlier media report suggested that Taliban prisoners were flown out of Afghanistan and had reached Qatar, where they would be handed over to the Taliban political office.
However, Mujahid told Arab News on Friday that the swap did not take place and the Taliban prisoners were still in the Bagram jail in the north of Afghan capital Kabul.
“There was an agreement that the Americans will take our prisoners to a location and in return we will release the two professors later. But they have not fulfilled their promise by taking our people to that venue. Under the circumstances, we are still holding the American and Australian professors hostage. And there is no progress in the deal so far,” the Taliban spokesman said in an audio sent to Arab News.
Experts in Afghanistan said that delay in the prisoner swap was the result of deep mistrust on all sides.
Zakir Jalai, a television commentator and Afghan peace activist, said the prisoner issue was very sensitive and the Afghan government was under intense pressure not to release Anas Haqqani.
“I think the Taliban do not trust the Americans and will not hand over the professors unless they have complete trust that the US will free the Taliban prisoners,” Jalali told Arab News from Kabul.
“The Taliban will release the professors when their prisoners are handed over,” he said, adding that both, particularly the Taliban, were very cautious in view of their mistrust of the other.
A day after President Ghani announced the swap deal, Taliban leaders sent congratulatory messages to each other and a Taliban official in an audio message, in possession of Arab News, said: “Congratulations, as the plane carrying the freed prisoners has taken off an hour ago.”
A Taliban official earlier said his incarcerated colleagues were taken out of the Bagram prison but were then locked up again in the jail.