Chinese and Indian officials are setting the tone for the June 9-10 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Qingdao with effusive statements. The warm words come even as India continues to balance its relationships among the great powers.
On Wednesday, Delhi’s ambassador to Beijing, Gautam Bambawale told China’s state-run CCTV the two countries were ‘not going to be going away from each other or apart from each other’.
‘Of course, there are certain differences between us, but we will also work at the differences to ensure the two countries continue to progress and prosper together,’ Bambawale said.
Bambawale described the “informal” summit in Wuhan last month between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a ‘strategic communication’.
‘As a result of their discussion in Wuhan, the two leaders have arrived at a certain consensus: the first and most important consensus is India and China are partners in progress and economic development: the second most important consensus is that there are many more commonalities between India and China than differences,’ he said.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi struck a similar note during an interaction with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in Pretoria on Monday, on the sidelines of a BRICS meeting.
Wang described India and China as having wide-ranging common interests that outweighed their differences. He added that both countries needed to stay away from actions that complicated their relationship.
All of this comes soon after Modi’s much-publicized keynote address at Singapore’s Shangri La Dialogue on June 1. Modi described India’s relationship with China as having ‘many layers’ and said the two countries had ‘displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border.’
Amid the public statements, Chinese vice-foreign minister Kong Xuanyou and foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale discussed the agenda for the Qingdao meet, where Modi and Xi are slated to meet separately. Meanwhile, another Chinese delegation is also scheduled to be in Delhi this week, to discuss ways to restart the modest military exchanges between the two countries.
The Quad and Malabar
Even as India and China seek to improve their relations, India continues its other engagements in the region. On Thursday, MEA officials joined diplomats from the US, Japan, Australia, and Japan for a regular meeting of the ‘Quad’ countries.
Also on Thursday, Indian, American, and Japanese warships kicked off the 22nd edition of Exercise Malabar in Guam. Only three Indian warships are taking part: The Shivalik-class frigate INS Sahyadri, the anti-submarine corvette INS Kamorta, and the tanker INS Shakti. They’ll be joined by a P-8i aircraft.
Despite the modest size of the Indian contingent, this year’s exercise is expected to be the most complex yet, involving ‘joint air operations to track hostile submarines,’ according to Manu Pubby of The Economic Times, citing unnamed officials.
After Malabar ends on June 16, the three ships will head to Hawaii, to join the ships of 25 other nations in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Significantly, the US has not invited China for this year’s RIMPAC from June 27-August 2.
We can only be sure China will closely monitor both the Malabar and RIMPAC exercises.