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Chinese Premier Congratulates Modi, But Unlike 2019, No Word From Xi

The first message from a Chinese leader arrived a week after the election results were announced on June 4, and two days after Modi's swearing-in ceremony.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bishkek in 2019. Photo: PIB

New Delhi: Five years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on securing a second term. However, in 2024, it was Chinese Premier Li Qiang who sent a brief congratulatory message on Tuesday (June 11), highlighting the absence of any felicitous missive from Xi this time.

The Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that Premier Li had sent a congratulatory message to Modi on his third term as prime minister.

“Li said that the sound and steady development of China-India relations is not only conducive to the well-being of the two peoples but also injects stability and positive energy into the region and the world,” said the report.

The first message from a Chinese leader arrived a week after the election results were announced on June 4, and two days after Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

In the Chinese political system, Premier Li is the second highest ranking official. The highest ranking leader is Chinese President Xi, who has been in power since 2012.

When the counting started on the morning of May 23, 2019, the leads were so overwhelming that the outcome was clear before noon. The BJP, under Modi, had won a bigger mandate than it got in 2014.

Even before the final result was out, the Chinese ambassador’s official Twitter (now X) account had posted a congratulatory letter from Xi addressed to Modi in the late afternoon of May 23.

“I attach great importance to the development of China-India relations and would like to work with you to guide the development directions of the bilateral relations, enhance mutual political trust, expand pragmatic cooperation and promote the closer developmental partnership between the two countries to a new height,” Xi wrote in 2019.

Five years on, Modi’s party has lost the majority for the first time in a decade, though the ruling alliance is comfortably past the halfway mark in parliament.

This time, more than a week after the election results were announced on June 4, the Chinese president has yet to issue any congratulations.

The newly-appointed Chinese ambassador Xu Feihong had tweeted a day after counting day that he looked forward to “making joint efforts with the Indian side for a sound and stable China-India relationship, which is in line with the interests and expectations of both countries, the region and the world”.

Meanwhile, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning also tweeted a brief congratulatory message on the results, stating, “We look forward to a healthy and stable China-India relationship.”

Three days later, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal thanked his counterpart, while also emphasising that the “normalisation” of bilateral ties must be based on “mutual respect, mutual interest, and mutual sensitivity”.

India has strained ties with its western neighbour, Pakistan, but even the Pakistani prime minister issued a short congratulations on X. The absence of any congratulations from China’s top leader till now is certainly a clear signal that Beijing is not happy with India.

Last week, among the congratulatory messages from around the world was one from Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te, who tagged Modi in a tweet expressing congratulations on his electoral victory.

In response, Modi had thanked him on X and stated that he looked forward to a “mutually beneficial economic and technological partnership”.

China protested to India about the virtual interaction on June 6. “India has diplomatic relations with China. China opposes all forms of official interactions between the Taiwan authorities and countries having diplomatic relations with China. This position is very clear and India knows this well,” said spokesperson Mao Ning.

Over the past decade, relations between India and China have experienced significant downturns.

India and China engaged in a two-month standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam area in 2017. However, the two leaders met at the BRICS summit in September of that year following the withdrawal of their respective armies from the region.

The two Asian giants, India and China, have yet to fully resolve another military standoff in eastern Ladakh that began in April-May 2020. While some friction points have seen de-escalation, China contends that the remaining areas are legacy issues and not part of the ongoing standoff.

India maintains that normalising relations hinges on restoring peace and security to the border, which includes resolving the stand-offs at Depsang and Demchok.

As a sign of the rift, China did not have an ambassador in New Delhi for over 18 months till Xu arrived in New Delhi last month.

The last encounter between Modi and Xi occurred during the BRICS summit in South Africa in August 2023. Although they had an informal discussion about the border issue, there was no significant progress.

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