Chinese President Xi Jinping, PM Modi embark on informal summit with tour of temple complex

Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off his second informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a guided tour on Friday of a temple complex dating back to the 8th century in Tamil Nadu’s Mamallapuram.

Both leaders were dressed in white casuals – PM Modi in white shirt and Veshti (Tamil Nadu version of the dhoti worn in the north) with an angvastaram slung over his shoulder and Xi in white shirt and black trousers – for the 45-minute tour that started at 5 pm. Both leaders shook hands and exchanged pleasantries before embarking on the tour of the historical site

Earlier, Chinese president landed to a red-carpet welcome at Chennai airport for the unscripted summit with Modi that India and China are looking towards to re-balance ties after strains over the Kashmir issue.

At the temple complex, Modi and Xi visited three monuments – Arjuna’s Penance, Panch Ratha and the Shore Temple – and were largely on their own, except for their translators and an expert from the Archaeological Survey of India called in to explain the details of the World Heritage Site.

The temple complex trip was the best first opportunity for informal interactions between the two leaders, who are expected to spend a total of six hours together over Friday and Saturday. They spent about 45 minutes at the temple complex and watched a 20-minute cultural programme by the Kalakshetra Foundation comprising Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi dances.

This will be followed by a private dinner hosted by Modi within a large tent at the Shore Temple Complex. The two leaders will share a private table, accompanied only by translators, while their eight-member delegations will be at other tables. The people cited above said the menu will largely comprise local cuisine, including vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

The people said both sides are looking to the summit to produce “some new directions from the top” that will build on the strategic guidance that flowed from the Wuhan summit.

“Both leaders like the unstructured format of the informal summit and both sides are aware there is a lot riding on this relationship,” said an official who didn’t want to be named.

Despite the recent differences between the two sides, the people said the overall relations had matured and evolved since Wuhan and this had been reflected in the decision to hold the summit as scheduled despite the speculation about its fate in recent weeks.

This edition of the summit had been planned since June, but it comes against the backdrop of a testy exchange between the two countries over Kashmir and China’s support to Pakistan.

Xi’s meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan hasn’t gone unnoticed, not after the Chinese leader declared Beijing was closely following the situation in Kashmir and would support Pakistan in protecting its core interests. That remark drew a loud and formal rebuttal from New Delhi, which reminded Beijing that developments in Kashmir were India’s internal matter and that it didn’t expect other countries to comment on internal affairs.

Xi was earlier received on his arrival in Chennai by Governor Banwarilal Purohit, chief minister EK Palanisami and Deputy Chief Minister O Pannerselvam.

Modi, who had reached Tamil Nadu a few hours earlier, took a helicopter to Mamallapuram, a little more than 15 km from Chennai, and he received the visiting dignitary at around 5 pm. Modi tweeted his welcome in three languages, English, Tamil and Mandarin: “It is gladdening that Tamil Nadu will host President Xi Jinping. May this Informal Summit further strengthen ties between India and China.”

From the airport, Xi drove straight to the ITC Hotel in Chennai before heading to the coastal town of Mamallapuram, which officials said was personally chosen by Modi as the venue for the meeting because it showcases India’s ancient culture and heritage and links with China’s Fujian province.

The Chennai meet is the second edition of the informal summit between Modi and Xi. The first was in the picturesque Chinese lake city of Wuhan in April 2018, months after a 73-day face-off between the armies of the two countries at Doklam took their relationship to an all-time low.

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