New Delhi: There is an old rule about summits which needs reminding about. Summits between heads of governments succeed in direct proportion to ground preparations on both sides. Leaders have risked summits on the outer chance of success with no meeting grounds discovered by the two parties at subordinate levels. Needless to say, success has proved elusive and embitterment has driven the summiteers further apart.

India-China relations have not progressed to a degree where summits will overcome sovereign differences on the alignment of the border, the final status of Arunachal Pradesh, China’s strategic ties with Pakistan, the freedom to navigate through the South China Sea, the Belt and Road Initiative and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and so on. India, according to a newspaper report, plans to hold a summit with China in Benares to parallel the Wuhan process. Even though the summit is labelled “informal” as Wuhan was by the Chinese, it will not yield results. Great powers are not very prone to flattery.

The success of summits seriously pivots on each side’s capacity for give-and-take. That capacity in turn is a product of national power. In his summitry for example, Donald Trump exercises national power to an extreme like perhaps none of his predecessors did save Ronald Reagan in patches in the Cold War. With the exception of Vladimir Putin who he defers to for some reason although US-Russia relations are far from normalizing, Trump patronizes most other world leaders and occasionally lets his contempt show for them. He will gush about Xi Jinping’s personal letter and impose twenty-five percent tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of more Chinese goods in the next instance. Having played a friendly game of golf with Shinzo Abe, he will pitilessly demand of Japan to import more from the United States to reduce the trade surplus. And calling Narendra Modi a friend and passing other ersatz complements, he will take low jabs at his accent and censure India as a “tariff king”.

Donald Trump plays the geo-economic game rather well. He has privileged geo-economics over geopolitics in his battles with China and he has brought Xi Jinping to his knees. Xi speaks of a “New Long March” and the youth wing of the Chinese communist party seeks millions of “volunteers” for a second “Cultural Revolution”. What this means is that China is readying itself to resort to militant nationalism in case it cannot get the better of the United States in the trade war. How much of all this is factored in Wuhan II in Benares? Does the Indian state even begin to understand the complications in dealing with the Chinese?

In the hard world of summitry, India has plenty to give but no capacity to take. It perhaps does not even know what to ask of the Chinese or how. The Chinese give nothing; what they cannot take, they grab. The Chinese desire to take over the vast Indian market and they have done better than the United States and Western Europe in this regard. India’s demands of the Chinese (aside from feeble protests about the Chinese surplus) are geopolitical (Pakistan, the border, CPEC) and they will make no concessions on these subjects while pressuring India to join the BRI and CPEC. That’s how the Chinese are. Their sense of entitlement is monumental.

The Chinese find themselves overmatched with Donald Trump but they can still awe the rest of the world. With the rest of the world (save again Vladimir Putin’s Russia), they play psychological games which fail with Trump. Wuhan was arranged by the Chinese as an informal summit for a reason. They wanted to size up an Indian strongman known for erratic and not very sound decisions. According to insiders, they succeeded in their quest. If the Benares summit had such ulterior motives on the Indian side, it would constitute a welcome change. It is unlikely to be so. Boat rides in the Ganges, a ringside view of the Ganga arti, etc, make for photo-opportunities. They add up to zilch in geo-economics and geopolitics.

At all events, the power differential between India and China is too vast for summits to be productive. And India scarcely abounds in the coercive power that China most understands and respects: Economic power. Expect little from Benares.