Crisis along LAC unprecedented, can’t be business as usual with China: Foreign secretary Shringla
The situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is “unprecedented” and it “cannot be business as usual” in the relationship with China until the status quo is restored on the disputed border, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said on Friday.
The standoff on the LAC is one of the most serious challenges India has faced in several decades and the current “magnitude of amassing of forces” on the border hasn’t been witnessed in recent years, Shringla said while speaking on the theme of Indian diplomacy amid the Covid-19 pandemic during a lecture organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA).
“We have had an unprecedented situation on the India-China border, we have never had this sort of situation since 1962. We have lost the lives of soldiers which has not happened in the last 40 years,” he said, referring to the brief but bitter border war fought almost six decades ago.
“We have also seen that there has been an attempt to take unilateral action that seems to be an effort to change facts on the ground. We will be firm and resolute in resisting this, and as far as we are concerned, there will be no compromise on our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Shringla said hours ahead of a planned meeting between the Indian and Chinese defence ministers on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Moscow.
Though India remains willing to talk with China and has kept the lines of communication open amid the pandemic, Shringla warned that it “cannot be business as usual unless there is peace and tranquillity in our border areas”.
He added, “The normal bilateral relationship will be affected. There is a linkage between what is happening on the border and our larger relationship and that fact is very, very evident.”
The only way to take things forward will be “revert to the status quo that existed before such aggressive actions took place” and to de-escalate and disengage frontline troops, he said.
India have held several rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic level and even contacts between the two foreign ministers and Special Representatives on border issues haven’t led to a breakthrough since the standoff emerged in the open in May. Following a fresh faceoff on the south bank of Pangong Lake, there have been four rounds on inconclusive talks between brigade commanders on the ground.
Shringla described the standoff as “one of the most serious challenges we have faced in many decades” but India remains committed to preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
He also focused on how India’s foreign policy is coping with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, which he described as “perhaps the greatest shock to the international system since World War 2”. The Covid-19 crisis has made India take a close look at the fundamental drivers of globalisation and the deficiencies and limitations of the existing global system, he added.
At a time when every country is looking at its own interests, there is a need for some sort of balance and to broaden the agenda of the international system and institutions, he said. The world order also has to focus on ensuring that a Covid-19 vaccine is accessible and affordable, and that there is “some level of equitable distribution” for it, he added.
India also has been at the forefront of digital diplomacy because its “global spread of interests and stakes makes us vulnerable on many fronts”, Shringla said. The government is now working to make the country the nerve centre of global supply chains and promoting it as an alternative manufacturing hub and innovation destination, he said.
The government remains committed to its “neighbourhood first” policy, Shringla said. However, he acknowledged that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) had taken a back seat to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) because “one of our neighbours has been consistently involved in blocking Saarc in all of its constructive activities”.
Though Shringla didn’t name any country, it was obvious he was referring to Pakistan. Bimstec, he said, had emerged as an alternative mechanism because it was a vital link between South and Southeast Asia.