Will Beijing pay heed to Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar’s formula to end the stalemate in India-China ties?
That the events in eastern Ladakh have put India’s relationship with China under exceptional stress has been publicly admitted by former diplomat and current External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar. Speaking at a conference, he candidly spoke about the hindrances in the bilateral relationship and also showed the way ahead to normalize ties between the two rising global powers.
The May 5 skirmishes between the militaries of two countries, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an unconfirmed number of Chinese casualties, had adversely affected their relationship. Some of the important points touched upon by Jaishankar included that while India was among the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the 1962 conflict badly affected the very foundations of their relationship.
So much so that it was only in 1976 that the two countries exchanged ambassadors. Also, the first prime ministerial visit to China after the initial bonhomie of ‘Panchsheel’ (five principles of peaceful co-existence) took place a good 34 years later with the visit of Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. Paradoxically, that visit also happened in the backdrop of a tense border stand-off in the Sumdorong Chu Valley of Arunachal Pradesh in 1986-87.
While that visit was able to break the ice and political, diplomatic, tourism, and economic relations flourished subsequently, that China became one of the largest trading partners of India, with the trade between the two touching an impressive US$ 92 billion in 2019.
High-level political and diplomatic visits too became more frequent. With the Modi government, the relationship virtually thrived significantly with Indian PM visiting China five times while Xi Jinping, the Chinese President making a couple of India visits.
However, amid all this growing affability between the two ancient civilizations and contemporary powers, some of the explicit actions by China never really allowed the real progression of trust.
EAM S Jaishankar's stress on the importance of China-India relations showcases the importance the Indian side attaches to its ties with China. The border issue shouldn't be linked with bilateral relations. pic.twitter.com/F0YXuJh6ym
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) January 29, 2021
To begin with the issue of stapled visas to residents of J&K and Arunachal, continuous opposition to India’s entry into Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC), open support to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, and blocking of UNSC resolutions against Pakistani terrorists against the global opinion — all these have clearly and explicitly showed the Chinese reluctance to come to terms with India’s growing stature.
In this scenario, the suggestions put forward by Jaishankar requires to be properly studied and adequately addressed. In his eight-point suggestion, Jaishankar has talked about strictly adhering to all agreements reached bilaterally and maintaining the sanctity of the yet undefined but broadly agreed LAC by the two forces.
And very correctly, he has talked of consequences in case of disturbances on the border. That the world has been witness to since May 2020 when clashes happened on the Ladakh border.
One of the points that Jaishankar talked about is the realization that both are ancient, civilizational states and must take a long-term view of the relationship. As a pragmatic diplomat, he also agreed that as rising powers, both India and China will have individual interests, concerns, and priorities along with aspirations and that both pursuing them in respective ways is quite natural and expected.
And there lies the catch, pursuing individual interests may or may not always be commensurate to respective individually perceived national interests.
That is already on display on many occasions. While China keeps playing to the gallery by proclaiming that both countries desire the emergence of a multi-polar world, yet it is quite disdainful of letting India emerge even an Asian power.
By using its ‘Pearl of Strings’ strategy and more recently with its Border and Road initiative (BRI), China continues to use all its political, diplomatic, and strategic games to make India confine to the South Asian region only.
In response to the Indian minister’s remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry has come up with its stand. However, this stand seems quite opaque and not in tune with the changing geopolitical realities.
While welcoming Jaishankar’s remarks, the Chinese spokesman Zhao Lijian appreciated India’s thinking but thinly suggested that border differences should not be allowed to impact the overall bilateral ties. That again indicates an unspoken design to continue with old ‘salami-slicing’ tactics while securing the best of the commercial benefits in the fast-growing Indian economy.
With Joe Biden into his initial days, China seems to be studying the emerging geopolitical scenario. It is also waiting for the summers to approach so that its troops get some relief on the shivering mountainous border against their Indian rivals. And certainly, it is waiting though probably not expecting India to blink first.
But in the backdrop of incessant military preparations by the two Asian powers, China and India, and the former’s track record against all its neighbors, the hope for durable peace and back to the business scenario of pre-May 2020 seems a distinct possibility. Both militaries seem ready for a long haul and a stalemate on the borders is unlikely to end in a hurry.
OPED By Rajesh Sinha