/ 22 August 2023

India, China to hold bilateral meetings on sidelines of Brics summit

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Members of City Youth organisations hold posters and light candles to pay tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives following a clash between India and China, in Hyderabad on June 17, 2020. India and China held top level talks on June 17 to "cool down the situation", Beijing said, after a violent border brawl that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead. Photo by NOAH SEELAM / AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold bilateral meetings during the Brics summit this week. 

The neighbouring countries have a tense relationship because of disputed territories at multiple border locations, which have led to violent and deadly skirmishes over the years.

The strained relations between the nuclear powers led to India earlier this year stonewalling efforts by South Africa to have China jointly host the Brics summit. 

China’s ambassador to South Africa, Chen Xiaodong, told a media briefing last week that the two countries would hold talks on the sidelines of the annual summit.

“I am confident that our two nations, two countries, will have direct talks, direct meetings. I cannot say there is tension between us but as neighbouring countries we have many common interests and at same time we have some problems,” Chen said.

South Africa faced a diplomatic nightmare when the Russian government initially refused to back down from its position that President Vladimir Putin would attend the summit in person despite an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant of arrest issued against him on allegations of abducting Ukrainian children. 

South Africa, which is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, faced reputational damage by hosting Putin in person.

In a previous interview with the Mail & Guardian, Deputy President Paul Mashatile confirmed that the Indian government had blocked talks by South Africa for China to host the summit as an alternative host nation. 

With the help of his Chinese counterpart, President Cyril Ramaphoa convinced Putin to appear virtually at the summit, insiders told the M&G. Putin has sent Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as his representative. 

The expansion of Brics is likely to dominate talks between the five heads of member states Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa this week. While China has strongly supported expanding the bloc, India had expressed reluctance. 

During a Brics foreign ministers meeting in June, India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said part of their mandate was to consolidate how the existing Brics members were working with each other, while potential expansion would also be part of talks.

Chen said expansion would be the highlight of the summit, adding that China firmly supported it.

The foreign ministers of the five Brics nations are expected to meet on Tuesday to discuss the modalities, principles and criteria for expansion. 

“The president believes there will be good progress for expansion. I don’t know the exact number of countries that will join Brics but there will be good progress and good results for expansion,” Chen said.

At least 20 countries have indicated a willingness to join the Brics bloc. In Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria are among the countries that will be considered.