PM Modi’s last minute stop in Germany: Indo-China relations on the agenda

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (standing, right) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak during the fourth biennial German-Indian Inter-Governmental Consultations in Berlin in May , 2017 (file photo)

PM Narendra Modi’s stopover in Berlin, on the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will see the two leaders discussing the “future of India-China relations”, among other issues

The future of Indo-China relations will be a major talking point between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chancellor Angela Merkel during PM Modi’s brief stopover in Berlin on April 20, on the way back from his current trip to Sweden and the United Kingdom, said a German embassy spokesperson in New Delhi on Tuesday.

“Our government is interested in the future course of Indo-China relations, because we have close ties with both China and India,” the spokesperson told National Herald. “Both China and India are important for the future of Asia. Stability in Asia largely hinges on the future of India-China relations. Germany is committed to the growth and stability of Asia,” he added.

While Germany enjoys strong strategic and economic ties with India, China is Germany’s largest trading partner. The two-way trade between China and Germany stood at $230 billion in 2016, according to Germany’s Federal Statistics Office. Bilateral trade between Germany and India, on the other hand, was much lower, though steadily increasing, at $18.73 billion in 2016-17.

“China is crucial for Germany. We both are trading nations. But Germany is also interested in political stability across the globe. I wouldn’t narrow down our relations to just trade,” the German mission’s spokesperson said.

Finding a way to navigate US President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs of imports into the US is a major challenge for Merkel, who was elected as Germany’s Chancellor for the fourth term in March this year, albeit with a reduced majority. The United States was Germany’s largest trading partner in 2015, before being overtaken by China the next year. The global trade surplus enjoyed by Germany has been attacked by Trump in the past.

While economic ties between China and Germany overshadow those between Germany and India, Berlin has repeatedly stressed the need to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The German leadership has been critical of Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region and its defiance of the international tribunal’s rulings in the South China Sea.

According to the German embassy in Delhi, Modi and Merkel would meet for dinner in Berlin before Modi returns to India. The progress on the negotiation of India-EU Free Trade Agreement is expected to come up during the talks as well, as per the official. “A future Free Trade Agreement with India is really close to our hearts,” he said

On his visit to Berlin in May last year, PM Modi had said that the partnership between Germany and India “was based on democratic values and commitment to an open, inclusive and rules-based global order, a view echoed by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during his visit to India last month.

“Prime Minister Modi will be the first Asian leader who Chancellor Merkel will be meeting since starting her fourth term,” the German embassy spokesperson said.

The official said that the meeting between the two leaders was being held at the behest of Merkel. “We asked your government to accommodate this visit. We suggested that if Prime Minister Modi was visiting Europe, it would be a great idea if he could also meet Chancellor Merkel,” the spokesperson said.

According to the German embassy, the two leaders would meet for dinner in Berlin before Modi returns to India. The progress on the negotiation of India-EU Free Trade Agreement is expected to come up during the talks as well, as per the official.

“A future Free Trade Agreement with India is really close to our hearts,” he said.

Modi’s visit to Germany was announced by India’s Ministry of External Affairs on April 14, two days after the official briefing on the PM’s two-nation tour to Sweden and the United Kingdom.

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