India, China differences remain despite five-point consensus on easing tensions
Sharp divergences remained between India and China on the standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) even after the two sides framed a five-point roadmap for easing tensions on the disputed border and speeding up the disengagement of troops.
The two sides reached an agreement on the five points during talks between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Moscow on Thursday night.
The points include dialogue aimed at quick disengagement, maintaining proper distance between troops of the two sides and easing tensions, abiding by all agreements and protocols on border management, and working on new confidence-building measures once the situation eases.
Wang was quoted by a Chinese foreign ministry statement as acknowledging that it is normal for two major neighbours such as India and China to have differences and that bilateral ties have come “to a crossroads”, though there is no challenge that can’t be overcome if both sides keep moving in the right direction.
These remarks marked a slight shift from China’s stance in recent weeks, including during defence minister Rajnath Singh’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on September 4, of holding the Indian side entirely responsible for the standoff.
In other areas, however, sharp differences persisted between the two sides, and experts noted that both countries hadn’t made any mention of the restoration of the status quo on the LAC as it existed in April or set any timeframe for completing the disengagement and de-escalation.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s statement also said that the Indian side “does not consider the development of India-China relations to be dependent on the settlement of the boundary question”, but this was dismissed by people familiar with developments.
The people, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that Jaishankar had emphasised even before the meeting that “the state of the border cannot be delinked from the state of the relationship”, and that he had repeated this at the talks with Wang.
During the meeting, Jaishankar made it clear recent incidents in eastern Ladakh had “inevitably impacted the development of the bilateral relationship”, said one of the people cited above. “While the Indian side recognised that a solution to the boundary question required time and effort, it was clear the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas is essential to the forward development of ties,” the person added.
The people also challenged the Chinese statement’s assertion that the “Indian side believes that China’s policy toward India has not changed”, saying the Chinese side is yet to provide a satisfactory explanation for the massing of troops and equipment in violation of all existing border agreements, which has created new flashpoints along the LAC.
The Chinese statement cited Wang as outlining China’s “stern position” on the situation and emphasising the need to “immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions” and to “move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed”.
The people cited above reiterated that Indian troops hadn’t crossed the LAC and it was the Chinese troops that had fired in the air during the latest face-off on September 7 on the south bank of Pangong Lake. “We are committed to a resolution though peaceful dialogue but it is the Chinese side that has repeatedly resorted to aggressive military actions and posturing,” a second person said.
Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash is among those who remain sceptical about the Chinese side’s intentions and willingness to deliver on the commitments made during Thursday’s meeting.
“The India-China joint statement on border disengagement somehow doesn’t inspire. The Chinese don’t seem to have agreed to restore status quo ante. There are no timelines,” he said.
“The understanding on quick disengagement is vague at best. It will be a miracle if these commitments are honoured,” Prakash added.