Narendra Modi's letter to Xi Jinping offering support, solidarity over coronavirus outbreak could herald new chapter in relationship

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi's letter to Chinese president Xi Jinping offering assistance to deal with the deadly coronavirus outbreak is just the latest chapter in a complex 70-year relationship

  • Looking at the past decade, relations arguably reached their lowest ebb during a 73-day standoff between the armies of the two countries in Doka La in the Sikkim sector of the border in August 2017

  • The letter, offering to help the Chinese and conveying that India stands in solidarity with the people of our neighbouring country, could be just the ticket to make a breakthrough

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's letter to Chinese president Xi Jinping offering assistance to deal with the deadly coronavirus outbreak is just the latest chapter in a complex 70-year relationship between the two countries.

 Narendra Modis letter to Xi Jinping offering support, solidarity over coronavirus outbreak could herald new chapter in relationship

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping. Reuters

Looking at the past decade, relations arguably reached their lowest ebb during a 73-day standoff between the armies of the two countries in Doka La in the Sikkim sector of the border in August 2017.

Since then, the freeze has considerably thawed with Modi and Xi Jinping meeting in Chennai's Mamallapuram in October 2019, having bilateral talks in June 2019 at Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, and an informal summit at Wuhan in April 2018.

The letter, offering to help the Chinese and conveying that India stands in solidarity with the people of our neighbouring country, could be just the ticket to make a breakthrough. The Chinese, for their part, have reacted with enthusiasm, saying the letter "fully demonstrated" New Delhi's friendship with Beijing, NDTV reported.

"We thank and appreciate India's support for China's fight against the NCP Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia, the official name for coronavirus," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. "India's acts of goodwill fully demonstrate its friendship with China," Geng said during an online media briefing while replying to a question on Modi's letter to President Jinping, as per the NDTV report.

While this warm offer from New Delhi and Beijing's effusive praise in return is a good first step, it is important to keep in mind that the "India-China engagement is always accompanied by lofty rhetoric" and given the huge power imbalance between two sides it is unrealistic to expect either a true "reset" in ties or deliverables, as these Firstpost pieces have noted.

But despite these cavaeats, it is entirely possible that the Chinese are ready for a new paradigm. In December 2019, Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui said the simultaneous rise of China and India is the most important historical event in the 21st Century and that the two countries should "break the strange circle" of ups and downs in bilateral ties.

And after all, this is the age of Donald Trump, where transactional diplomacy and a personal touch between Heads of State has become the new normal. "It is possible that we are slowly moving into an era of personal diplomacy where ties between nations are better managed through relation between top leadership instead of structured systems," this Firstpost piece pointed out.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2020 19:58:27 IST