Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi bank on chemistry as they talk trade and terrorism

Kicking off their informal summit in Chennai, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi banked on their personal chemistry in an attempt to iron out recent wrinkles in relations between the two countries.

The first part of the Chinese leader’s visit, on Friday evening, stretched on for much longer than scheduled. A one-on-one dinner between the two leaders, originally expected to take an hour, lasted nearly 2½ hours.

Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, briefing the media late on Friday night, said that the talks mostly revolved around trade and terrorism.

“The two leaders spoke on issues of trade, investment and on enhancing both the trade values as well as trade volumes in order to bridge the trade deficit between the two countries,” Gokhale said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and Chinese President Xi Jinping visit the Vaan Irai Kal in Mamallapuram on Friday. Photo: PTI via dpa alt=Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) and Chinese President Xi Jinping visit the Vaan Irai Kal in Mamallapuram on Friday. Photo: PTI via dpa

Xi and Modi also discussed “similar challenges that they both face on account of terrorism and radicalisation”, the foreign secretary added. “Both leaders had a general sense that terrorism was a common challenge and that they will work together to overcome it.”

The Indian government has recently postured aggressively on cross-border terrorism, placing the blame on Pakistan, a close Chinese ally. It remains to be seen whether either side raised the topic of Kashmir, an issue that remains hotly contested by both countries.

Gokhale declined to elaborate on the conversations and did not take questions, saying that the talks were ongoing.

Earlier in the evening, the summit saw plenty of photo opportunities and warm optics as Xi and Modi walked around the monuments in the coastal town of Mamallapuram in southern Tamil Nadu.

Modi gave Xi a personal tour, a gesture that recalled their previous informal summit last April, when the Chinese president took his Indian counterpart on a tour of Hubei Museum in Wuhan.

The leaders spoke at length on Friday evening unaccompanied apart from their interpreters.

After visiting two monuments, they sat down to sip coconut water, then toured a third monument and watched a 30-minute cultural performance.

China’s President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi talk during their visit to the Shore temple in Mamallapuram on the outskirts of Chennai on Friday. Photo: India’s Press Information Bureau via Reuters alt=China’s President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi talk during their visit to the Shore temple in Mamallapuram on the outskirts of Chennai on Friday. Photo: India’s Press Information Bureau via Reuters

“The two leaders spent quality time, spending over five hours together of which all the time, except the 30 minutes of the cultural performance, were spent one-on-one …

“Today’s visuals and the tour reflect the personal rapport between the two leaders, built over 17 meetings and two summits that the two leaders have had since PM Modi took office in 2014,” Gokhale said.

The two leaders are slated to meet for three hours on Saturday, on the second and concluding leg of the summit.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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