India, China reject US bid to mediate on border issue
The Indian government on Friday doubled down on its rejection of US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate on the border standoff with China, with people familiar with development contradicting the American leader’s remarks that he had discussed the “big conflict” with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
China too rejected Trump’s offer of mediation, and foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the two countries don’t need the intervention of a third party as they have existing mechanisms to resolve problems. China’s foreign and defence ministries described the situation at the border as “stable and controllable”.
The reactions from New Delhi and Beijing came hours after Trump reiterated his offer to mediate between India and China to resolve the standoff between border troops of the two countries at a briefing at the White House early on Friday (Indian time).
Trump initially made the offer to mediate through a tweet on Wednesday. Though it was tacitly turned down by India’s external affairs ministry on Thursday, he went a step further and said on Friday that Modi was “not in a good mood” regarding the “big conflict” with China.
The people cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the last conversation between Modi and Trump had occurred long before the standoff with China became public, and the discussion had centred around the US request for supply of hydroxychloroquine to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There has been no recent contact between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump. The last conversation between them was on April 4 on the subject of hydroxychloroquine,” said one of the people cited above.
“Yesterday [Thursday], the external affairs ministry had made it clear that we are directly in touch with the Chinese through established mechanisms and diplomatic contacts,” the person added.
This is the second time New Delhi has called out such a claim by Trump regarding mediation between India and another country. In July 2019, India dismissed Trump’s remarks, at a joint news briefing with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, that Modi had asked him to help resolve the Kashmir issue.
At that time too, Trump contended he had spoken directly with Modi about Kashmir. “And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator, or arbitrator? I said ‘Where?’, and he said ‘Kashmir, because this has been going on for many many years’,” Trump had said at the time.
Trump created a flutter on Wednesday with his tweet about mediating to end the standoff: “We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!”
After studied silence for a day, the external affairs ministry cleared the air at its weekly briefing on Thursday. Asked about Trump’s offer, ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava ruled out any role for a third party in addressing the border tensions: “As I’ve told you, we are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve this issue.”
Despite the position adopted by India, Trump reiterated his offer to arbitrate when he was asked by an Indian reporter about the border standoff at the White House briefing.
Prefacing his offer to mediate with the comment that “they like me in India”, Trump said: “They have a big conflict going with India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people, two countries with very powerful militaries. And India is not happy, and probably China is not happy. But I can tell you, I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He’s not – he’s not in a good mood about what’s going on with China.”
Asked specifically if he would mediate between India and China, Trump replied: “I would do that. You know, I would do that. If they – if they thought it would help if I were the mediator or the arbiter, I would do that. So, we’ll see.”
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian rejected the US offer to mediate by saying: “Between China and India, we have existing border-related mechanisms and communication channels. We are capable of properly resolving the issues between us through dialogue and consultation. We do not need the intervention of the third party.”
Both Zhao and, for the first time, defence ministry spokesperson Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang described the situation at the border as “stable and controllable”.
“The two sides have the ability to communicate and solve relevant issues through the established border-related mechanisms and diplomatic channels,” Ren said in an online media interaction on Thursday.
Zhao told a regular news briefing on Friday: “We have been implementing the important consensus reached by leaders of both countries, observing the bilateral agreements and have been committed to safeguarding territorial sovereignty and security, stability and peace in the border area.”
The statements from China’s foreign and defence ministries were perceived as a sign that, at least as of now, the government isn’t willing to let the situation worsen through a war of words with India.
To be sure, India has rejected China’s assertion that Indian troops carried out illegal constructions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Arun Singh, who served as India’s envoy to the US during 2015-16, described Trump’s mediation offer as an effort to “project that he is influential internationally”.
“The US president is erratic and unpredictable and even Twitter is hiding his tweets. I’m sure even he wasn’t expecting a positive response from India or China. We should ignore it and move on,” Singh said.
China’s state-run media too dismissed Trump’s proposal.
“The latest dispute can be solved bilaterally by China and India. The two countries should keep alert on the US, which exploits every chance to create waves that jeopardise regional peace and order,” the nationalistic Global Times tabloid said in a comment piece.
The article titled “China, India don’t need US help on their frictions” further said: “It seems Trump finally knows that China and India, the two largest Asian powers, share borders. Early this year, A Very Stable Genius, a book written by two Washington Post journalists, revealed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was shocked and concerned when Trump told him India and China did not share a border.”
It noted India had turned down Trump’s offer last year to mediate on the Kashmir issue, and that India “perhaps has been aware of the US’ bad history of mediation in which the US made troubles rather than solved problems”.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has said that the government must come clean on the border face-off between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“The Government’s silence about the border situation with China is fueling massive speculation and uncertainty at a time of crisis. GOI must come clean and tell India exactly what’s happening,” Gandhi tweeted on Friday.