Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will come face-to-face at the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, or BRICS, summit via video conference on November 17. This would be their first such exchange since tensions along the border in Ladakh sparked off a chain of military confrontations between the two countries.

Russia, which currently holds the BRICS chair, announced on Monday that the 12th summit is going to be held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Modi and Xi, who have met at least 18 times in the last six years, last shared a platform on March 26 when Saudi Arabia held the virtual gathering of G20 leaders, according to The Indian Express. Although the defence and foreign ministry counterparts of India and China have held a series of talks to defuse tensions – without much success – the two leaders have not spoken to each other since the border standoff first became public in May.

“It has been five months since the standoff began, and in Moscow last month, the foreign ministers adopted a five-pronged approach to disengage and de-escalate early,” an unidentified official told The Indian Express. “But there has been no progress in disengagement since then, although there has been no escalation either. We will have to see if the intent to disengage is there or not in the coming weeks.”

The theme for this year’s summit is “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth”, Russia said. It said the five countries have continued “close strategic partnership on all the three major pillars: peace and security, economy and finance, cultural and people-to-people exchanges”.

 “Despite the current global situation due to the spread of the coronavirus infection, the activities under the Russian Brics chairmanship in 2020 are carried out in a consistent manner. Since January 2020 more than 60 events have been organized, including via videoconferencing. The BRICS Summit will be the jewel-in-the-crown event of the Russian BRICS Chairmanship, which will provide impetus for further strengthening cooperation together with our partners to ensure well-being of BRICS countries.” 

— Anton Kobyakov, adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin and executive secretary of the organising committee, to prepare and support Russia’s SCO presidency in 2019-'20 and Brics chairmanship in 2020.

The border standoff

Military heads of both India and China have engaged in several rounds of talks over the last three months after 20 Indian and unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed in violent clashes in Galwan Valley in June. But these talks have so far failed to break the impasse.

On September 22, both the countries had issued a joint statement about the sixth round of Corps Commander-level talks and said they resolved to stop sending more troops to the frontline. The statement added that both sides will refrain from unilaterally changing situation on the Line of Actual Control.

On September 10, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. The two ministers agreed on a five-point plan to defuse tensions between the countries and said the current situation in the border areas of Ladakh was “not in the interest of either side”.

On September 7, China had accused India of “outrageously firing warning shots” in a new confrontation on the southern bank of Pangong Tso lake, describing it as “a serious military provocation”. India had denied this, saying that Chinese troops had attempted to close in on Indian forward positions along the Line of Actual Control and had “fired a few rounds in the air”. This was the first confirmed use of firearms on the Line of Actual Control by troops in more than four decades.