Won’t allow differences to escalate, both sides say
A day ahead of crucial talks between Indian and Chinese army commanders on the stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the two sides on Friday agreed on not allowing their differences to escalate into disputes while respecting each other’s concerns.
In the first formal diplomatic meeting between the two sides since tensions flared along the LAC, joint secretary (East Asia) Naveen Srivastava of the external affairs ministry held talks with Wu Jianghao, director general in China’s foreign ministry, through video conference and reviewed bilateral relations, including “current developments”, according to a readout from the Indian side.
Statements issued in New Delhi and Beijing referred to not allowing differences to become disputes. The Indian statement spoke about respecting each other’s sensitivities and concerns, while the Chinese side’s readout said the two sides should not pose a threat to each other and should enhance “strategic mutual trust”.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that Friday’s meeting was meant to set the stage for the talks on June 6 between the general officer commanding of Leh-based 14 Corps, Lt Gen Harinder Singh, and his Chinese counterpart.
Tensions built up along the LAC following violent clashes between hundreds of Indian and Chinese troops in the Sikkim and Ladakh sectors early last month. Army officers of the two sides have held several meetings along the disputed border but have been unable to break the impasse.
During Friday’s meeting, both sides agreed that in accordance with the guidance provided by their leadership, they “should handle their differences through peaceful discussion bearing in mind the importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations and not allow them to become disputes”, the external affairs ministry said in a statement without giving details.
The two sides “recalled the consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, that peaceful, stable and balanced relations between India and China will be a positive factor for stability in the current global situation”.
This was a reference to the guidance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping to the militaries of both countries to maintain peace and tranquillity along the border after their first informal summit at Wuhan in 2018. That summit was organised to put ties back on an even keel after the 73-day standoff at Doklam in 2017.
A statement issued by China’s foreign ministry in Mandarin said the two sides agreed that under the strategic guidance of their leaders, they “should not pose a threat to each other, should present opportunities for development and not allow their differences to escalate into disputes”. The statement called for the two sides to “properly manage and control differences”.
The statement also called for enhancing “strategic mutual trust”, and deepening mutually beneficial cooperation and promoting the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties to “ensure that the giant ship of China-India relations always moves forward in the right direction”.
The officials of the two sides also exchanged views on the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, cooperation at different multilateral forums.
The Chinese statement further said the two countries should deepen cooperation in fighting epidemics, oppose the “politicisation of epidemics”, support the World Health Organization (WHO) and promote the building of public health systems.
They should also uphold and promote multilateralism and oppose “unilateralism, protectionism and hegemonism”, and jointly safeguard international fairness and justice and the common interests of developing countries, the Chinese side added.
India and China have been in touch through diplomatic and military channels in New Delhi and Beijing over the past few weeks to address the border tensions. Joint secretary Srivastava has been involved in these contacts, the people cited above said.
The army commanders are set to met on June 6, almost a month after tensions between India and China flared along the disputed border and took bilateral ties to a new low.
India has dismissed China’s contention that its troops were hindering the activities of Chinese troops along the LAC, and has accused Chinese forces of hindering patrols on the Indian side. The Indian government has also made it clear that it won’t allow any change in the status quo along the LAC and that it will tackle the prevailing situation with “strength and restraint”.
Amitabh Mathur, a former special secretary in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), said there was nothing new in the two sides talking about not allowing differences to become disputes. “Hasn’t this line been said before? It has become a sort of cliché,” he said.
“While they may say they don’t want differences to become disputes, we have a dispute on our hand. The defence minister has said that the Chinese have come in, and in large numbers. We have to put an end to it somewhere. If the Chinese agree to go back, why did they come in? The clues to that will be in any possible terms of settlement between the two sides,” he added.