The extensive arrangements made in this seaside resort for the second India-China informal summit from Friday give no inkling of the sharp exchanges on Kashmir that have clouded the atmosphere over the past few weeks, with officials saying New Delhi is looking toward a substantive engagement that can help clear the air.
President Xi Jinping is set to fly to Chennai airport shortly after 2pm on Friday, two days after he remarked during a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that China is closely following the situation in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and will support Pakistan in protecting its rights.
The external affairs ministry’s response was swift and direct – it said China was aware of India’s position that J&K is an integral part of the country, and that it didn’t welcome comments from other countries on its internal affairs.
However, the testy exchange doesn’t appear to have thrown a dampener on preparations for the informal summit that will see Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi having one-on-one exchanges for several hours as they go around a temple complex dating back to the 7th and 8th century, and spend time at Fisherman’s Cove, a luxury beachfront resort, on Friday and Saturday.
The Indian side believes these unscripted meetings without any agenda will give the two leaders an opportunity to clear the air on a host of issues, exactly as they had done during their first informal summit in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year, which came in the wake of the 73-day military stand-off at Doklam.
People familiar with the developments have already said the Indian side doesn’t expect to discuss the Kashmir issue and the recent organisation of the state, though the Prime Minister will outline and explain India’s position on the matter if it is raised by the Chinese president.
The Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, told news agency PTI that the two countries pose no threat to each other and greater cooperation between them would inject positive energy in ensuring peace and stability into a “complicated world”.
“A new set of consensus is expected, including a shared vision for transformation of the international system, the common responsibility and role of China and India in regional affairs, and guiding principles on the development direction of bilateral relations and cooperation in various fields,” he added.
On Friday, soon after arriving in Mamallapuram, a collection of rathas (temples shaped like chariots) and mandapas (cave sanctuaries) about 50km from Chennai, that was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1994, the two leaders will have a guided tour of Arjuna’s Penance, Panch Rathas and the Shore Temple, and watch a cultural performance by a troupe from Kalakshetra Foundation, a cultural academy founded in 1936.
This will be followed by a dinner hosted by Modi, which will again give the two leaders some more time together.
The following day, Modi and Xi will have a meeting at Machaan at Fisherman’s Cove, overlooking the Bay of Bengal, before they hold delegation-level talks at the Tango Hall in the same resort. A lunch hosted by Modi will be another opportunity for one-on-one discussions before Xi departs for the Chennai airport a little after noon.
On Thursday, the Tamil Nadu government and security agencies were busy putting final touches to arrangements to ensure that the summit goes off without any hitches. Last-minute drives were underway to spruce up the sites to be visited by the two leaders and security drills and arrangements were being tested, including a dress rehearsal for the movement of the two leaders that led to several parts of the town being closed.
The World Heritage Site, and even private properties along the route to be used by the motorcade of the two leaders, were given a fresh coat of paint and makeshift metal and wood barricades were put up at several places for people to stand behind while the convoy drives by.
There was a thick security blanket in many parts of the city, with police personnel lining the roads and manning barricades that blocked entry to the sanitised parts of the Mamallapuram temple complex to be visited by the two leaders. The monuments have been thoroughly cleaned and specially illuminated by the Archaeological Survey of India.
More than 5,000 security personnel have been deployed in and around the town, especially along the Old Mahabalipuram Road and East Coast Road, and at least two Coast Guard vessels have been deployed close to the shore. Scores of temporary police posts have been set up and surveillance is being conducted using hundreds of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, especially along the route to be used by the official motorcade.
However, there were also voices of scepticism regarding the potential outcome of the informal summit. Former ambassador MK Bhadrakumar, a close watcher of India-China relations, wrote in an opinion piece: “This seems one of those rare occasions when two sides are stuck with a high-level exchange that was conceived under different circumstances in a different matrix.”
(With inputs from PTI)