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International relations

Modi, Xi talk briefly on G20 sidelines in Germany

Courteous interaction raises hope after Bhutan-China border spat near India

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President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared an informal moment at the G20 in Hamburg despite a recent border incident involving Bhutan, China, and India.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India briefly interacted on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Germany on Friday, three weeks after their respective armies brushed up against each other in a disputed area along the Bhutan-China border.

The encounter occurred during an informal meeting of the leaders of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) hosted by China. Modi and Xi talked briefly, according to Gopal Baglay, India's foreign affairs spokesperson, in a tweet that included a photograph of the two leaders smiling and shaking hands.

Baglay did not elaborate on the "range of issues" discussed during the encounter, which according to Indian media lasted only about five minutes.

The latest Sino-Indian border tension concerns the disputed Doklam plateau near India's Sikkim state along the Bhutan-China border. Beijing claims Doklam, but India and its close ally Bhutan says Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital, holds sway.

Ahead of the Friday-Saturday G20 summit in Hamburg, both China and India confirmed there would not be a formal bilateral meeting between Xi and Modi. On Thursday, the Chinese government was quoted in the Indian media saying the atmosphere was "not right" for such a meeting, and the Indian government said nothing had been included in an already busy schedule.

China and India share a 3500km border and have long been fractious neighbors. According to analysts, the latest standoff is the longest since a war in 1962 that saw India defeated.

The problem started on June 16 when, by New Delhi's account, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) road construction party entered Doklam -- a move with "serious security implications" for India. Indian and Bhutanese troops confronted the PLA personnel and asked them to stop work.

Beijing, for its part, has accused Indian soldiers of entering the territory, and has demanded their immediate withdrawal to safeguard peace and tranquility. It has invoked an 1890 convention between Britain -- which ruled India at the time -- and China. Beijing maintains India recognized the convention at the time of its independence from Britain in 1947.

On Friday, the Indian Express newspaper reported that Indian and Chinese troops are maintaining a "civil distance" of about 120 meters. It said there has been no physical confrontation between the two sides or any attempt by the PLA to resume road work.  

The informal Modi-Xi interaction has raised hopes that the situation can be peacefully defused.

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