The Modi-Xi summit has raised the expectations of a realignment of the relationship between the two countries, despite the chequered past and blow hot, blow cold policy of the Chinese.
Although government officials from both sides claim that they are likely to continue where they left off at Wuhan, discussing bilateral, regional and global issues and exchanging views on deepening India-China partnership, there is a lot to be read between the lines.
This becomes even more important seen in the context of the geo-political dynamics of the region, where Pakistan has been active in all international fora, including the recently concluded UN General Assembly, trying to muster up global opinion against India’s abrogation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
On that front, China’s stance has been far from favourable to India, as China has historically been seen as an ally and a friend of Pakistan. Even at the recently concluded UNGA in New York, the Chinese Foreign Minister had made a reference to Kashmir, observing that “the Kashmir issue, a dispute left from the past, should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement".
But things seem to be returning to neutral ground already, as ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, China has made an official statement that the Kashmir issue should be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan, and it significantly omitted its recent references to the UN and UN Security Council resolutions. China further added that it would call on India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue and consultation on all issues including the Kashmir issue and consolidate mutual trust. This is in line with the interests of both countries and global common aspirations. Closer home, in Tamil Nadu, many political observers are seeing this as a subtle but strong message to the people of the state from Modi that he genuinely has a high regard for Tamil history and culture. He definitely has been trying to give out a consistent signal that they may have come a cropper in the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu, but they still would like to bring it to the centre stage of the world, and what better way than choosing Mahabalipuram as the venue for such an important strategic summit. President Xi is not the first Chinese head of state to visit Mahabalipuram, as in 1956, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, had visited the place during his visit to India. Modi has carefully chosen a place that is deeply entrenched not only in the history of south India but also has deep ancient connections with China. In terms of symbolism, the connection is based on the principles of Buddhism, a predominant socio-cultural diplomacy running over thousands of years, where a Pallava prince is said to have carried Buddhist thoughts and culture to China, and spread the teachings of peace to the Chinese people.
There were speculations that PM Modi would most likely invite President Xi Jinping to Varanasi, his home constituency and hence his choice of Mahabalipuram came as a surprise to many. The last time Xi visited India in 2014, Modi had made sure that it was his home ground, Gujarat, also the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi, that played host. It is common knowledge that it is a tough task to win the heart of the Chinese President. The growing proximity between Xi and Modi is not an overnight, flash-in-the-pan, diplomatic knee jerk reaction by India, but one nurtured over a period of time.
A unique format of discussing serious global and bilateral matters in an informal setting has emerged. Even the Wuhan summit included a lakeside walk along the East Lake in Wuhan, a traditional Chinese tea ceremony as well as a boat ride and a lunch hosted by President Xi for Prime Minister Modi. This was apart from a 40-minute one-on-one and a curtailed delegation-level meeting to rebuild mutual trust and understanding after the Doklam stand-off.
Again when the duo met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Bishkek in June 2019, Modi invited Xi for a second bilateral informal summit while emphasising that dialogue with Pakistan might not be possible at that stage. He also conveyed that India had a bilateral mechanism to engage with Pakistan, thereby reiterating that there was no role for any third party.
- 111 AD the earliest historical document that recorded the mutual contacts is Hanshu (The History of Han Dynasty) refers to Huang Zhi Guo, as modern day Kancheepuram
- 547 AD compiled, the earliest text mentioning Bodhidharma “The record of the Budhist Monasteries of Louyang”. It has mentioned Bodhidharma’s longevity of 150 years
- Bodhidharma who took traditional Chinese medicine to other South East Asian countries is believed to have been born in Kancheepuram. Many sources ascribe him to be a prince from Pallava dynasty
- 7th century, Xuan Zang, was one of the most famous Chinese monks in India
- 8th Century, Pallava King, Narasimhavarman II, better known as Rajasimha had close relations with the Chinese emperor
- The medieval and later Cholas too maintained a healthy relationship with the Chinese. During the reigns of Rajendra Chola I (1014 – 1044 AD) and Kulothunga Chola I (1070–1122 AD), commercial and political diplomats were sent to China.
- Till the last Chinese feudal dynasty Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) records of Tamil-Chinese exchanges can be traced both in official and folk historical documents.
- Coastal town Mahabalipuram and Kancheepuram have their ancient links with China as common inscriptions have been found in China
- In the biography of Songshi, the history of songs, description of Cholas are mentioned. In the fifth section of Songshi, written by court historians, the depiction of the layout of cities in Chola empire read: “In the kingdom there is a city which is enclosed by seven-fold walls that are seven-feet high…Within each wall are planted various flowering plants and fruit trees.”
- Arrays of ancient Chinese coins have been found at places considered to be the homeland of the Cholas (the present Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Pudukkottai districts of Tamil Nadu, India), further confirming the existence of trade and commercial relationship between the Cholas and the Chinese