The Mamallapuram Summit

PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinging will also pack in an hour-long tour of Mamallapuram’s three famous monuments and a cultural programme. Another round of diplomatic strife, this time over India’s ongoing military exercise in Arunachal Pradesh, has further delayed the announcement of Xi’s visit but both sides seemed confident on Sunday of the summit proceeding.

The programme seems designed to allow Modi and Xi to spend as much time as possible in private. The ‘Wuhan’-type discussion is intended to allow the two leaders to traverse a wide range of geo-political subjects. The leaders will officially start the informal summit on Friday at 5 pm with an hour-long tour of monuments — Arjuna’s Penance, Panch Rathas and Shore Temple — in Mamallapuram. This will be followed with a cultural programme they will together attend at the Shore Temple.

Xi and Modi will then round off the day with a private dinner which the latter will host, again at Shore Temple. This 75-minute dinner is expected to be a one-on-one but it’s possible that senior officials will join them towards the end. Xi will then return to his hotel in Chennai.

The leaders will start the next day at 10 am with an informal chat in the gardens of a five-star resort, right on the edge of the Bay of Bengal. This meeting, expected to last for at least 40 minutes, is where Xi and Modi will exchange their world views in private, like they did on a boat ride in Wuhan last year. This will be, as a source put it, an unscripted meeting where the leaders will focus on the big picture without getting distracted by finer details of complexities which have impaired ties in the recent past.

The nitty-gritty will be reserved for the next round at the same venue — the formal delegation-level talks — which will seek to generate some takeaways, perhaps the most challenging aspect of the second informal summit. At Wuhan, the two sides had issued “strategic guidance” to their militaries to build trust and enhance predictability in management of border affairs, a significant outcome post-Doklam. After these talks, Modi will again meet Xi over lunch, at the same resort, before the Chinese president departs for the airport. In all, the leaders will spend close to seven hours together.

Before all that to happen, though, there’s still the small matter of officially announcing the summit. India is likely to do so late on Monday or Tuesday after a final confirmation from China. Chinese vice-foreign minister Luo Zhaohui  had registered a strong protest with foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale against India’s Him-Vijay military exercise.

A votary of stronger ties with India, Luo had been pushing for an early informal summit. Beijing’s decision will likely depend on his report to the top leadership on his engagements with Indian officials. India, though, is unlikely to stall the Arunachal exercise with the Army clarifying again on Saturday that it was planned months in advance and was taking place 100 km from the Line of Actual Control.

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