On China, an opening | HT Editorial
The Moscow talks can yield positive results, if China translates words into actionUpdated: Sep 11, 2020 20:19 IST
Once again, India and China have agreed to disengage and de-escalate. In previous rounds of negotiations and statements, China failed to translate this commitment into action on the ground. But, perhaps, this round may be different for a set of reasons. The first is simply the high-level, face-to-face nature of the negotiations. The military-to-military meetings ran aground, with local commanders lacking the authority to make decisions that require political sanction. The meeting between defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe last week, and between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his counterpart, Wang Yi, on Thursday (both in Moscow) were, thus, the first genuinely high-level — and physical — interactions between the leadership of the two countries since the border crisis began.
A second reason is the instability inherent in the massive military mobilisation all along the Himalayas. The surprise Indian military deployment along the heights near Spanggur Tso and Finger 4 has reminded China that even for the two largest armies in the world, this particular border is impossible to defend and hold in its entirety, all year round. China made some initial territorial gains, but it is not difficult for India to make similar incursions. With both armies having lost lives, moved within firing range of each other, and with shots being fired at LAC for the first time in 45 years, the confrontation has become much more dangerous than similar incidents in the recent past. A third reason is that India’s economic sanctions, against both digital and physical products, and its technology alignments with the United States, will translate into an enormous lost opportunity for China. The issue was never money; it was about being blowing a hole in more ambitious plans to establish a Sino-centric global standards regime. Ultimately, when the foreign ministers met, the message sent out was that the cost for eight kilometres of lakeshore was high and going to become higher. The entire bilateral relationship was at risk.
Beijing must understand that the terms “disengagement” and “de-escalation” mean only one thing for New Delhi: A return to status quo ante. India has provided an opportunity for a genuine settlement. Though not evident in China’s recent actions, it is hoped its fabled statecraft and pragmatism reasserts itself.