“There can be no normality in India-China ties unless the troops amassed at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are withdrawn”, External Affairs Minister told the Chinese Foreign Minister during talks that concluded without any joint statement or agreement on the way forward.
Why was this meeting important?
- Two years into the military standoff along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
- The standoff in eastern Ladakh began in 2020 following a violent clash in the Pangong lake area and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.
- As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso in Feb 2021, and in the Gogra area in August. While troops are yet to disengage in two other areas, the broader de-escalation is nowhere near the horizon. The standoff remains unresolved with about 50,000 troops amassed on either side of the LAC
Key points of the meeting
Border issue – Both sides agreed on the importance of early and complete disengagement in remaining areas to allow bilateral ties to take their natural course. They also stressed the need to continue positive interactions at diplomatic, military levels for the restoration of peace.
Allow Indian students to return – The issue of return of Indian students to china to resume their studies and hoped the Beijing will adopt a “non-discriminatory approach” on it.
Ukraine crisis – The two ministers agreed on the need for an immediate ceasefire and a return to the path of diplomacy and dialogue to defuse the way in Ukraine.
China’s Kashmir remarks at the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) meet discussed – external affair ministry conveyed to Wang that India hopes that China would follow an independent policy in respect to India and will not allow its policies to be influenced by other countries.
China has proposed a three-point approach–
- First, both sides should view bilateral relations with a long-term vision.
- Second, they should see each other’s development with a win-win mentality.
- Third, both countries should take a part in the multilateral process with a cooperative posture.
Why this outreach from China?
- China’s chairmanship of the BRICS grouping this year, and a desire to invite all the leaders to a summit in China. China, which also chairs for the RIC (Russia-India-China) trilateral this year, on the side-lines of the BRICS summit.
- India hosting the G20 and shanghai cooperation organisation (SCO) summit in 2023, which china described as two years for an “Asian moment” in global governance.
- China asserted that both share the same or similar positions on major international and regional issues. As both abstain vote against Russia at UNGA.
3500 km long border, varied perceptions
The India-China border, stretching from Arunachal Pradesh in the east to Ladakh, is largely not demarcated. Both sides claim vast swathes of each other’s territory, primarily due to differences in perception about the exact location of the Line of Actual Control.
Growing trade, and the imbalance
Trade remains heavily tilted in Beijing’s favour. India’s trade deficit with China is the largest it has with any country, and the imbalance has been steadily widening.
Figure in billion dollars
On Ukraine- Russia
Both agreed on an immediate ceasefire but the two positions weren’t entirely aligned. The point of difference has been china’s explicit blaming of the U.S and NATO for the crisis. On Afghanistan, India said China had not invited India to its conference on foreign ministers of neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to be hosted by Beijing.
The External Affairs Minister in 2021 suggested “three mutual” and “broad propositions” as a way forward for the relationship.
Mutual respect, mutual sensitivities, and mutual interests are the “determining factors”.
Adhering to commitment
The first proposition was that agreements already reached must be adhered to in their entirety, both in letter and in spirit.
Maintaining peace and tranquillity
Peace and tranquillity in border areas were the basis for the development of the relationship in other domains. If that was disturbed, he said, the rest of the relationship would be too.
While both remain committed to a multipolar world, they should recognise that a Multipolar Asia was one of its essential constituents.
While each state had its interests, concerns, and priorities, sensitivities to them could not be one-sided and relations were reciprocal in nature. As rising powers, neither should ignore the other’s set of aspirations.
While both sides had made a common cause on development and economic issues and common membership of plurilateral groups was a meeting point, there were divergences when it came to interests and aspirations.
Civilizational states, India and China must always take the long view.
Cooperation and competition
Even before the events of 2020, the relationship had reflected a duality of cooperation and competition.