Despite China and India being engaged in their worst border stand-off in years—a dicey dispute at the tri-junction of India's Sikkim, China's Tibet, and neighboring Bhutan that was triggered by China's construction of a road near a vulnerable Indian corridor— there was no sign of difference in the public interactions between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi at the G20 summit. However, there has been scant sign of progress since the dispute erupted— with troops from both sides jostling along disputed frontiers, Bhutan and India siding together to reject China's sovereignty claims, and Beijing fruitlessly calling for Indian troops to withdraw; the two leaders were photographed smiling on the sidelines and exchanging warm praise for their mutual efforts at a meeting of BRICS leaders. PM Modi started his speech by thanking Xi for his welcome and hosting the meeting. "Under Xi's chairmanship, the progress and positive momentum of BRICS have further deepened our cooperation," the PM said. Concluding the meeting immediately after the Prime Minister's remarks, Xi appreciated India's strong resolve against terrorism and the momentum introduced in BRICS under India's chairmanship and through the outcomes of the Goa Summit in 2016. He also appreciated India's success in economic and social development and wished India even bigger success. To be fair, the Sikkim dispute did cast something of a pall over the G20; China rejected a formal bilateral meeting with India because 'the atmosphere was not right.' And the two leaders reportedly discussed the border issue in private sideline talks, where they are likely to have shared harsher words than they mustered before journalists' clicking cameras. Still, the dynamic on display here was a strange one, as the leaders of China and India smiled for the cameras and congratulated each other, their armies square off in a dispute that has some eerie recalling with the 1962 war. As India won accolades for sustainable and inclusive growth as well as support to the global economy, the G20 has also praised the initiatives in the country for promoting ease of doing business, startup funding and labour reforms. For promoting inclusive growth this year, the Action Plan said India is introducing labour market reforms to provide security to workers, increase female participation in the workforce and make business activities easier in the country. The acknowledgement from the G20 Summit, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi among other world leaders, assumes significance in the wake of India trying hard to improve its global ranking for ease of doing business.
Not to forget, despite a low ranking from the World Bank, India has implemented a spate of reforms in the recent months in areas like insolvency, taxation and starting a business, and now expects the rankings to improve substantially. The 13-page Action Plan also said China is improving its business environment and utilising foreign investment actively, while the European Union is fostering investment with a proposal to extend the European Investment Plan and increasing the overall flexibility of the EU budget to support job creation, investment and economic growth. But, India's stand on terrorism – especially pointing on China's 'friend' Pakistan, must have compelled China to think many times before going for a head-on collision. India said that it had "a major influence" on counter-terrorism discussions at the G20 summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising the key issue with European leaders.
Counter-terrorism measures remained in focus during all discussions Prime Minister Modi had with European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the G20 summit. Pledging a joint crackdown on the global scourge of terrorism and to check its funding sources, G20 leaders, including Modi, said, all terror-safe havens must be eliminated from every part of the world. In a joint declaration on countering terrorism on the first day of the G20 summit here, they resolved to facilitate swift and targeted exchanges of information between intelligence, law enforcement and judicial authorities on operational information-sharing, preventive measures and criminal justice response. Modi, who was a lead speaker on the theme of terrorism at the Leaders Retreat at the G-20 summit on Friday, had bracketed Pakistan-based terror groups like LeT and JeM with ISIS and al-Qaida and made a strong pitch for global "deterrent" action against countries that support terrorism for their political goals. Modi had also presented an 11-point action plan to counter terror, including a ban on the entry of officials from terrorism-supporting countries, into G-20 nations. Perhaps this is another reminder that the photo-ops and PR posturing of the G20 have very little bearing on actual diplomatic reality. Or, perhaps, it is a signal that Xi and Modi are genuinely interested in cooling rising tensions. We'll be watching to see if the Sikkim border quiets down accordingly.