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SOURCE: HT

South Block is flummoxed by reports about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s possible visit to India for the Brics summit as neither the dates nor the format has been decided given that the coronavirus pandemic is showing no signs of abating, people aware of the matter said.

The buzz around President Xi’s possible visit to the summit of the five-nation group comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa was triggered by positive comments of the Chinese spokesperson about relations with India on Monday. The spokesperson also expressed Beijing’s support to host this year’s meeting though he hadn’t responded to a direct question about President Xi’s visit to Delhi.

“The dates of the BRICS summit have still not been decided. Once the date and the format, virtual or physical, has been decided by India, only then consultations will be held with Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil. As it is, President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping are not travelling outside their countries due to the global pandemic,” said a senior official at the ministry of external affairs.

Diplomats based in Moscow told Hindustan Times that the no Brics dates were mentioned by visiting foreign secretary Harsh Shringla to his Russian interlocutors either. “Not even the dates of the annual India-Russia summit have been finalised due to the pandemic,” said a senior diplomat.

India assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Brics forum on January 1, 2021, taking over from Russia, which hosted the last summit as an online event in November 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

India’s assumption of Brics leadership, the third time since the group was formed in 2006, comes at a time when New Delhi’s relations with Beijing are facing their worst challenge in decades. Troops of the two neighbours had been engaged in a standoff for over nine months and have only now started disengaging from one of the friction points; the south and north banks of Pangong lake.

While Beijing would like to portray that it was business as usual after the Pangong Tso disengagement, Indian military commanders are not so convinced and are still wary of the intentions of PLA commanders till such time there is complete peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

China’s approach all along the past nine months has been to delink the bilateral relationship with border friction to revive the economic relations. The Indian stand is quite the opposite and stresses that peace and tranquillity on the border is the prerequisite to a normal bilateral relationship. It is in this context that India wants status quo ante to be restored all along the LAC before the revival of ties, a position that has been agreed to by Chinese interlocutors during the backchannel talks.

While much of the speculation around President Xi possible visit for the Brics summit has been flagged as a breakthrough in bilateral relations, officials underline that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has shown no signs of withdrawing troops from anywhere along the 3,488 km long LAC except Pangong Tso. The Chinese military infrastructure build-up all along the eastern sector across Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh is showing no signs of receding with the PLA redeploying forces for tactical reasons. There is no change of force in either the Depsang Bulge area or the Gogra-Hot Springs area.