Xi and Modi hold bilateral talks in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the group photo session during the BRICS Summit at the Xiamen International Conference and Exhibition Center in Xiamen, southeastern China's Fujian Province on 4 September, 2017. (Kenzaburo Fukuhara / Pool / AFP Photo)

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to continue improving ties between Asia’s most populous countries in a bilateral meeting on the side-lines of a summit in China.

Xi was hosting leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the coastal city of Qingdao over the weekend. The China-led grouping includes India, Russia, Pakistan and several Central Asian countries, as well as Iran as an observer state.

“Met this year’s SCO host, President Xi Jinping this evening,” Modi tweeted on Saturday. “We had detailed discussions on bilateral and global issues. Our talks will add further vigour to the India-China friendship.”

The two nations signed agreements Saturday on the export of non-Basmati varieties of rice from India and information sharing between China and India on the Brahmaputra river in flood season.

The SCO meeting – which also features Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – comes as the United States (US) considers new sanctions on Iran, and immediately before US President Donald Trump’s scheduled meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on 12 June.

Informal summit

In late April, Xi and Modi held an informal meeting in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where they agreed to have their two armies strengthen communication links. The meeting was arranged to help maintain peaceful relations in a tense bilateral relationship that frayed significantly over a border dispute in the Himalayas last year. It was held at a time when global tensions were on the rise from North Korea to a brewing global trade war.

The SCO, which was founded in 2001, is sometimes considered a China-backed, eastern counterweight to the western NATO alliance because of an emphasis on security and a stated aim of creating a "new international political and economic order." The US was not invited to be a part of the group and officials have worried about the group’s influence on democracy and human rights across Asia.

Neighbours India and Pakistan, historic arch-rivals that have fought several wars, joined the SCO as full member states in June 2017. The previous year, India led a boycott of a summit for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC, over what New Delhi alleged was "increasing cross-border terrorist attacks" by Pakistan. – Bloomberg