External affairs minister S Jaishankar. (File photo)
External affairs minister S Jaishankar. (File photo)

Jaishankar lists 8 principles to repair ties with China, stresses mutual respect

The minister’s virtual keynote address at the All India Conference of China Studies reiterated several concerns he has raised in recent months
UPDATED ON JAN 28, 2021 02:26 PM IST

External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Thursday outlined eight principles to help repair strained relations with China, saying the two countries were at a crossroads and will have to accommodate each other’s interests and sensitivities in a multi-polar Asia.

Jaishankar said three so-called “mutuals” – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests – are the determining factors for the bilateral relationship and cannot be brushed aside as the two countries try to resolve a nine-month standoff in Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The minister’s virtual keynote address at the All India Conference of China Studies reiterated several concerns he has raised in recent months – the sudden amassing of Chinese troops on the LAC last year and Beijing’s failure to provide a credible explanation for the change in its stance – and provided a way forward in resolving the standoff.

“Respecting the three mutuals and observing those eight principles...will surely help us make the right decisions,” he said.

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Noting that discussions are being held through various mechanisms for disengagement at the border, Jaishankar said both immediate concerns and long-term relations can only be based on mutuality, and “the three mutuals – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests – are its determining factors”.

He added, “Any expectation that they can be brushed aside, and that life can carry on undisturbed despite the situation at the border, that is simply not realistic.”

Jaishankar summed up the eight principles to handle ties with China as:

• Agreements already reached must be adhered to in their entirety, both in letter and spirit.

• The LAC must be strictly observed and respected, and any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo is completely unacceptable.

• Peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the basis for development of relations in other domains. If they are disturbed, so inevitably will the rest of the relationship be.

• While both nations are committed to a multi-polar world, there should be a recognition that a multi-polar Asia is one of its essential constituents.

• Each state will have its own interests, concerns and priorities, but sensitivity to them cannot be one-sided as relationships between major states are reciprocal in nature.

• As rising powers, each will have their own set of aspirations and their pursuit too cannot be ignored.

• There will always be divergences and differences but their management is essential to bilateral ties.

• Civilisational states like India and China must always take the long view.

Jaishankar said he didn’t have a definitive answer to the question of where bilateral ties were headed as the “events of 2020 have actually put our relationship under exceptional stress”.

Tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese troops have dug in for the harsh winter along the LAC in Ladakh sector even as several rounds of diplomatic and military talks have failed to lead to a breakthrough in disengagement and de-escalation at friction points. A clash between Indian and Chinese troops at Naku La in Sikkim sector on January 20, which resulted in injuries on both sides, has added to concerns about possible expansion of the dragging standoff.

Both sides have said the talks held so far have helped improve understanding and led to steps to manage tensions at the border but there have been few signs of progress on actual measures to pull backs troops and equipment from Ladakh.

Jaishankar also spoke of the “painstaking and arduous” efforts to rebuild ties after the 1962 border war with China, saying the two sides had exchanged ambassadors only in 1976, and the first prime ministerial visit to China since 1954 had happened in 1988. “The quality of our ties in many ways was impacted both by the border conflict and the lost decades thereafter,” he said.

Despite differences and disagreements on the border, those areas remained fundamentally peaceful and the last loss of life before the clash at Galwan Valley in 2020 was in 1975, he pointed out.

“That is why the events in eastern Ladakh last year have so profoundly disturbed the relationship because they not only signalled a disregard for commitments about minimising troop levels but also showed a willingness to breach peace and tranquillity,” he said.

Over the past three decades, interactions and exchanges had grown steadily and China became one of India’s largest trading partners and a very significant source of investment and technology, while a “complex but practical” set of agreements focused on the management of the border areas as both sides conducted negotiations on the boundary dispute, he said.

“The advancement of ties in this period was clearly predicated on ensuring that peace and tranquillity was not disturbed and that the LAC was both observed and respected by both sides,” he added.

Jaishankar said the agreements explicitly stated the two countries would refrain from massing troops on the border though there wasn’t “significant progress on arriving at a common understanding of the alignment of the LAC”.

“But at the same time, there was also increasing construction of border infrastructure, especially on the Chinese side. Since 2014, there may have been more efforts by India to reduce this very considerable gap, including greater budget commitments and a better road-building record,” he said. “Nevertheless, the infrastructure differential remains significant and as we saw last year, consequential.”

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