Why a wave of Asian summitry
Shift in thought
Leaders of India and China are meeting this weekend, as are those of the Koreas. Perhaps the region’s historic disputes over land are yielding to a need for common prosperity.
—Less than a year ago, the world’s two most populous nations, India and China, almost went to war. In a tense showdown over disputed land in the Himalayas, their soldiers traded stones and punches. After 73 days, each side backed down. Now, on April 27 and 28, their leaders will meet and instead try to embrace what they have in common – ever the wiser in setting aside nationalist rage over territorial issues.
Asia, which is home to half of humanity, is littered with such land disputes, a result of wars, colonial-era mistakes, and ambitions for dominance. The China-India summit will be just one of several high-level meetings in the region over coming weeks that may reflect a desire to ease territorial tensions.
Despite the size of the two Asia giants, their meeting will probably be overshadowed by another summit also being held this weekend. For the first time in 11 years, leaders of North Korea and South Korea will be holding talks. The summit is aimed mainly at ridding the North of its nuclear weapons. If the talks go well, President Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in May or June. Yet it is important to recall that the Korean conflict is fundamentally a dispute over which of the two countries will control the peninsula – the land issue unresolved by the 1950-53 Korean War. The talks may reveal if North Korea is finally ready to put prosperity for its people ahead of its desire to conquer the South by force.
One reason China and India avoided a land war last year is the fact that their trade reached its highest level ever, growing by 20 percent in 2017 to more than $84 billion. China is now India’s largest trading partner and a key investor. For its part, China is trying to build roads and ports across the region to boost trade and reclaim its historic role in Asia.
With both India and China facing internal pressures to foster growth, cooperation between the two looks more enticing than confrontation. The elephant and dragon now realize they need a dance card, not another military confrontation along their more than 2,000-mile border. The two fought a brief war in 1962 in the Himalayas that ended in a stalemate.
The summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be informal, reflecting their serious intent to get along. Just as remarkable is the fact that Mr. Modi will again meet with Mr. Xi in June at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional body.
Their close call over war last summer was a wake-up call for both sides to look at the big picture and opt for a beneficial détente over a deadly contest in their remote mountains.