Chinese President Xi Jinping told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that Beijing would work with New Delhi to maintain “hard-won sound” ties between the two countries.

President Xi made the assurance during his meeting with Prime Minister Modi in Hangzhou on Sunday. The Indian PM, who arrived in the Chinese city on Saturday night to attend the G-20 Summit, met the president on Sunday morning to discuss various important bilateral issues. President Xi also said that Beijing would try hard to boost co-operation with New Delhi and resolve outstanding bilateral issues through peaceful negotiation.

The two leaders, who held talks before attending the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) leaders’ meeting, further discussed India’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid, the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Corridor being built through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and the Indo-US Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).

Indian and Chinese officials attach importance to the Modi-Xi meeting because of growing differences between the two Asian powerhouses on a number of bilaterally sensitive issues in recent times. Earlier, India accused China of stalling its membership at the NSG, while China expressed concern over close Indo-US defence ties.

Just before the G-20 Summit, China and the US put India under pressure by ratifying the Paris climate agreement. On Saturday, the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases ratified the agreement, thus, turning the spotlight on India and the European Union (EU), who are yet to formally join the agreement. Immediately after China and the US made the significant step towards bringing the Paris climate deal into force before the end of 2016, India explicitly said that it would not be able to meet the deadline due to some technical problems. Senior Indian official Arvind Panagariya told the Chinese media: “We have sought flexibility. Yes, we are committed to ratifying it, but cannot complete the domestic procedures by 2016-end.”

Before his arrival in the Chinese city of Hangzhou on Saturday, Prime Minister Modi sent a strong message to Beijing by strengthening ties with Vietnam.

Modi, the first Indian PM to visit Hanoi in 15 years, made clear that New Delhi would maintain ‘close’ ties with smaller south-east Asian countries, like Vietnam, in an attempt to corner the Asian giant in the region. During his meeting with Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi, he expressed serious concern over Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and surrounding waters, saying that India would work together with all the countries in south-east Asia to ensure regional peace.

Prime Minister Modi also voiced India’s unhappiness with China for blocking its entry to the NSG and building projects in POK, saying that it would be important for all the countries to jointly counter Beijing’s aggressive policy.

Modi has made a point by travelling to Hanoi ahead of his trip to China, as Vietnam is one of the countries that has stood firm against Chinese aggression. Speaking at a joint press conference in the Vietnamese capital, the visiting PM said that India has always considered Vietnam as a comprehensive strategic partner. “Our decision to upgrade our Strategic Partnership to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership captures the intent and path of our future co-operation. It will provide a new direction, momentum and substance to our bilateral co-operation,” Modi told the media in the presence of his Vietnamese counterpart.

Prime Minister Nguyen, too, admitted that he mainly discussed “China and its aggressive foreign policy” with the Indian PM. “(We) discussed matters concerning the East Sea. All sides must peacefully solve East Sea disputes based on international laws,” he stressed. PM Nguyen also thanked Modi for extending a new Line of Credit of USD 500 million for defence co-operation and another USD 5 million for setting up of an Army Software Park at the Telecommunications University in Nha Trang.

Indian foreign policy experts are of the opinion that Prime Minister Modi has sent out a bold message to China by visiting Vietnam, as all the countries in the region are strengthening their defence and security ties in an attempt to advance their “common” interests. As Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and General Secretary of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong praised India’s principled position on the South China Sea during their meeting with Modi, Beijing would think twice before playing the “Pakistan card” with India.

It is a fact that Vietnam will never be for India what Pakistan is to China because no other country in the world can be so self-destructive as Pakistan as far as its rivalry with India is concerned. But, Modi’s Vietnam visit will certainly put the Asian giant under pressure. Vietnam is a very smart country. Vietnam, which has a ruthless understanding of self interest, did not hesitate to confront with “powerful” China to protect its interest in the past. Even Hanoi maintains “friendly” ties with the US, which was responsible for the deaths of around 1.5 million Vietnamese in the 1960s and 1970s. Overall, Prime Minister Modi’s short visit to Hanoi will definitely yield dividends for both India and Vietnam in the coming days.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]