While External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar conveyed to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday the continuing impasse along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was “visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner”, the Chinese Minister offered a starkly different message, calling on both sides to “place the border issue in an appropriate position”.
Mr. Jaishankar reiterated India’s view in their talks on the sidelines of the SCO meeting — their first meeting since September last year in Moscow — that the LAC crisis would have a bearing on broader ties. “Assessing the overall relationship, the External Affairs Minister emphasised that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas has been the foundation for the development of ties since 1988,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) quoted him as saying, adding that attempts to change status quo last year “disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements” and “have inevitably affected ties”.
Mr. Wang, in contrast, said in China’s view the boundary should be kept “in an appropriate position” and it should be addressed while both sides looked to “expand the positive momentum of bilateral cooperation and create favourable conditions for resolving differences through negotiation”.
He said ‘cooperation’ should be “the main theme” of ties, while interaction “should still be seeking mutual benefits and complementarity, pursuing healthy competition and avoiding confrontation”. India has said normalcy in other areas of ties will not be possible until there is disengagement and then de-escalation along the border.
Mr. Wang also repeated China’s view that “the responsibility does not lie with the Chinese side” for the LAC crisis — another point of difference. Both also differed in their assessment of how to tackle remaining issues along the LAC, with problems unresolved in several areas including Depsang, Demchok, Gogra and Hot Springs after the February disengagement at Pangong Lake. Mr. Jaishankar said “the successful disengagement in the Pangong Lake Area earlier this year had created conditions for resolving the remaining issues” and noted “the situation in remaining areas is still unresolved”.
Mr. Wang did not refer to any remaining issues. He said since their September meeting in Moscow, frontier troops “disengaged in the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Lake areas, and the overall situation in the border area was de-escalated”. He said China “is ready to find a solution acceptable to both sides on the issue that needs emergency response through negotiation and consultation,” yet talks between the military to find a solution since February have made little headway.
The MEA statement noted the agreement between both sides at the last meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on border affairs on June 25 to “convene at the earliest” the next meeting of military commanders. This was not mentioned in the Chinese readout, and the view in New Delhi is Beijing has since February dragged its feet on talks to resolve the pending issues.
Both sides did agree that neither should take unilateral actions and that the current situation suited neither. Mr. Jaishankar said “both sides had agreed that a prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side”. Mr. Wang, for his part, said “relations still stay at a low level, which is not in the interest of either side”. He said China’s “strategic judgment on China-India relations remains unchanged”, which is, however, a view that isn’t entirely shared by New Delhi in the wake of the LAC crisis of last year.