Amid border row, India’s Jaishankar to meet his Chinese counterpart today
External affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi are set to come face-to-face at least three times in Moscow on Thursday, with the focus on a bilateral meeting that is being seen as key to reducing tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Jaishankar and Wang will participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on Thursday morning, to be followed by a luncheon meeting of foreign ministers of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping.
The day will be capped by the bilateral meeting, the first between Jaishankar and Wang since the standoff in Ladakh sector began in May. The two leaders spoke on phone on June 17, two days after the deadly clash in Galwan Valley that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and caused an unspecified number of Chinese casualties.
Ahead of his departure for Russia on Tuesday, Jaishankar emphasised the need for political contacts to reduce tensions and end the stalemate in the disengagement process along the LAC. The standoff goes against all understandings on border management dating back to 1993 and the serious situation calls for “very deep conversations...at a political level”, he said.
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Wang will hold bilateral meetings and attend the luncheon meeting for the Chinese, Russian and Indian foreign ministers, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a news briefing in Beijing. Asked specifically about the bilateral meeting between Jaishankar and Wang, he declined to go into details.
“During [the SCO] meeting...Wang Yi will discuss with foreign ministers of other member states of the SCO cooperation amid Covid-19 and exchange views on major international and regional issues,” Zhao said.
The RIC meeting between Jaishankar, Wang and their Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov assumes significance as Moscow has pushed for dialogue between New Delhi and Beijing to ease the border tensions. Given its good ties with India and China, Russia also doesn’t want to be forced into taking sides, experts said.
Roman Babushkin, the Russian deputy chief of mission, said on Tuesday his country wasn’t directly mediating between India and China but was “focusing on the creation of a positive atmosphere through SCO, Brics and RIC for practical cooperation”. He added: “Any kind of dialogue would be better than escalation.”
The SCO charter has no scope for discussing bilateral disputes, though the grouping is a “comfortable platform” for building common ground and mutual trust, he said. Babushkin noted that defence minister Rajnath Singh had met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of another SCO meeting in Moscow last week.
Russia, he said, will encourage outcomes that give impetus to further de-escalation and disengagement. “We are very hopeful that, sooner rather than later, India and China would find a mutually acceptable solution for the border crisis,” he said.
The latest face-off on the south bank of Pangong Lake, during which shots were fired along the LAC for the first time in 45 years, have complicated efforts to lower the temperature along the disputed border. The Chinese side has been rattled by India’s proactive action of taking a string of strategic heights since the weekend.
India has said Chinese troops tried to close in on a forward position on Monday and fired in the air when they were dissuaded. The Chinese side pushed back again on Wednesday, with people familiar with developments saying Indian troops had “illegally” crossed the LAC, “made provocations” and were the “first to open fire without justified reason”.
Experts believe the meeting between Jaishankar and Wang is unlikely to result in an immediate breakthrough, though it could set the stage for further political engagements to end the standoff. Jaishankar is the longest serving Indian envoy to Beijing, where he served for four-and-half years from 2009, and has known Wang for a long time.
Wang Dehua, a South Asia expert at Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies, said: “After Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe and his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh’s meeting in Moscow, the meeting of the foreign ministers is of great significance as it is conducive to ease the tension along the border while helping to reset relations. Perhaps, it will prompt an early meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping.”