At spl briefing, Jaishankar’s blunt message to China on what it can’t expect
Jaishankar said China is the only major power centre with which India’s relations have not advanced because Beijing violated border management agreements in 2020 by moving troops to the frontier to “coerce” India
NEW DELHI: External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Thursday delivered a blunt message to China on the standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – any expectation that ties can be normalised without peace on the frontier is unfounded since the forward deployment of troops is the main source of continuing tensions.
China is the only major power centre with which India’s relations have not advanced in recent times because the Chinese side violated border management agreements in 2020 by moving large numbers of troops to the frontier to “coerce” the country, he told a special media briefing on foreign policy during nine years of the Modi government.
Jaishankar’s pointed comments put into sharp relief the worst slide in India-China relations in six decades because of the military standoff, which recently entered its fourth year. Both sides have deployed more than 50,000 troops each on the LAC and have been unable to agree on disengagement and de-escalation despite more than two dozen rounds of diplomatic and military talks.
Both countries, he said, have to find a way of disengaging because the impasse does not serve China’s interests. “The fact is the relationship is impacted. And the relationship will continue to be impacted. If there is any expectation that somehow we will normalise [ties] while the border situation is not normal, that’s not a well-founded expectation,” he said.
The forward deployment of troops very close to each other by both sides is the main issue and not any possible occupation of land, he said while answering a question in Hindi. The tensions due to such forward deployments “can lead to violence, as you saw in Galwan” Valley, he said, referring to the brutal clash in June 2020 that killed 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops.
Responding to a question on why China is the sole exception when it comes to India’s enhanced relations with most countries, Jaishankar said: “Well, in a sense, that answer can only be given by China because China consciously, for some reason, chose in 2020 to break agreements, to move forces to the border areas and...seek to coerce us.”
He added, “I think it’s been made very clear to them that until there is peace and tranquillity in the border areas, our relationship cannot progress. So that is the obstacle which is holding that back.”
India desires good relations with China, a neighbour and a large economy, and has kept the channels of communication open since the start of the standoff, he said. Against the backdrop of calls by China’s leadership to put the border issue in an “appropriate place” while other aspects of the relationship such as trade are normalised, Jaishankar made it clear that ties cannot be taken forward if agreements are violated and peace and tranquillity on the LAC are set aside.
Communications between the two sides have not broken down and Jaishankar pointed out that even before the clash at Galwan Valley, the Indian side informed the Chinese side that it had spotted “movements of your forces which in our view is violative of our understanding”. The morning after the Galwan Valley clash, Jaishhankar said he had spoken to Wang Yi, then his Chinese counterpart, and since then, the two sides have engaged through the foreign ministers, the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs and senior military commanders.
Jaishankar said he had a “long discussion” on the border issue at a meeting with Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Goa, and a chat with the Chinese deputy foreign minister on the sidelines of a recent Brics meeting in South Africa.
This sort of engagement will continue on the margins of multilateral events attended by both countries and through bilateral mechanisms such as WMCC and the senior military commanders’ meetings.
“These mechanisms continue to do the work because, at the end of the day, disengagement is a very detailed process. Obviously, you have to have a leadership-level buy-in but the details of it have to be worked out by people on the ground. I think all of this would continue to happen,” he said.
Responding to accusations by the Congress party and its leader Rahul Gandhi about China building a bridge at Pangong Lake and villages in disputed areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Jaishankar said this was done at locations occupied by the Chinese side in 1962 and 1959, respectively.
China has occupied territory since the 1950s and the continued neglect of border infrastructure by past governments had also put Indian troops at a disadvantage, he said. A lot of problems during India’s forward deployment were linked to this issue, but the current government has ramped up the construction of roads, bridges and tunnels. The average budget for border infrastructure till 2014 was less than ₹4000 crore but this has now increased to ₹14,000 crore.