The summit held over the weekend between Chinese President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the southern Indian coastal town of Mamallapuram was a comforting encounter between the leaders of Asia’s two largest nations. Given the nature of the meeting – an informal summit – no formal statements were issued after Mr Xi departed. However, it is a fair bet that the two men now have a far better understanding of each other’s concerns, thanks to the six hours of direct conversations they had, and separate delegation-level talks. While the two have now met some 18 times, these talks, like the one held in the middle of last year inWuhan amid a border stand-off, had their special uses.

If the Wuhan summit notably resulted in the leaders providing “strategic direction” to their respective militaries to de-escalate tension at the tri-junction of their borders with Bhutan, the meeting in Mamallapuram might in time be remembered for the high-level mechanism that is to be established to discuss the thorny issues of trade, investment and services. Indian complaints of being swamped by Chinese exports and a lack of reciprocal access to the Chinese market, particularly in services – where it has competitive advantage – have not only held back a flowering of their economic relationship, but have also reverberated across Asia, slowing progress on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.

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