In Depth

The other summit: why today’s Xi-Modi meeting matters

Rapprochement between nuclear powers China and India could shift world power balance

With attention focused on the historic summit between North and South Korea, an arguably more important meeting is taking place between two leaders who together rule a third of the world’s population.

In a meeting that was unthinkable just six months ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping will host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan for an informal summit, “the clearest sign yet of thawing relations between the two estranged nuclear powers”, says CNN.

Having been on the brink of armed conflict over a border dispute last year, the world’s two most populous and fastest-growing economies cement a remarkable turnaround today. But what do both men hope to gain?

For Modi, the benefits of stabilising relations with China are clear. With elections scheduled for next year in India,the nationalist leader will “be pushing to get less from President Xi: less trouble like the embarrassing territorial showdown that put the two countries on alert last year”, The New York Times says. And “less worry of the kind India is feeling right now about rising Chinese influence on its doorstep, in Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives”.

Modi is popular with voters, says CNN, but “a potentially bruising encounter with China, especially one that involves the two countries’ armed forces, could see his poll numbers dented”. The meeting with Xi, “can both help to mitigate that risk, while simultaneously opening up the possibility of increased economic cooperation at a time of global uncertainty”.

There are advantages for China too. Last year, India was the only country to publicly reject China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a network of infrastructure investment stretching from Asia to Europe.

Shashank Joshi, writing for the BBC, says: “China is eager to dampen India's hostility to the scheme. It is also concerned about last year's meeting of India, the US, Japan and Australia - informally known as the Quad - after a decade-long hiatus, and their joint efforts to develop alternatives to the BRI.

“By engaging Mr Modi, Mr Xi hopes to slow India's steady drift towards America and its allies.”

As for the rest of the world, the prospect of the two nuclear and economic powerhouses joining forces is a significant threat to the current balance of power in the region, and “would signal a significant geopolitical shift and the type of major policy win befitting Xi’s new status” as arguably the most powerful person on the planet, says CNN.

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