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Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Decoding Wang Yi’s visit to India

If you blinked you may have missed the Chinese Foreign Minister’s trip to Delhi on Friday- not only were his official meetings just a few hours, the visit was completely unannounced, and there was no build up of expectations.

Mr. Wang flew into Delhi after visits to Islamabad and Kabul. At the airport, apparently by the Chinese request, there were no photos of his reception. The next day he held a 1 hour meeting with NSA Ajit Doval, followed by a 3 hour meeting and lunch with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, before he left for Kathmandu.

Even so, the importance of the visit for both China and India cannot be downplayed- primarily for what it means for bilateral relations that have been ruptured over Chinese actions at the LAC:

This is the first such visit to India by a senior Chinese official since hostilities at the Line of Actual Control began in April 2020 after PLA amassed troops and transgressed Indian territory along the Line in Ladakh- and the Galwan clash that left 20 Indian soldiers, and an undeclared number of Chinese soldiers dead.

The visit by the Chinese FM, and the acceptance of the visit by India is a break from the past 2 years, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only attended multilateral events online with Chinese President Xi- like the BRICS, SCO and G-20, while EAM Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have only met their counterparts to discuss the Ladakh disengagement process

Despite the government’s position that there can be no normalcy without a resolution of the LAC, the government discussed several bilateral issues with Wang- including trade, visas, Indian students, cooperation on health, and important international developments like Ukraine and Afghanistan

Wang invited NSA Doval to Beijing for talks of the Special Representatives on the border issues, but was told that the NSA could only look at the broader boundary resolution after the immediate issues- ie China’s continued occupation of territory and troops numbers along the LAC in contravention of agreements made in 1993-96 not to change the status quo

And External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said, that while 15 rounds of border commander level talks and 8 rounds of the Working mechanism have yielded considerable progress- several friction areas remain which must be addressed, leading to a full disengagement and de-escalation between troops.

Now, while India has made all of this clear- there other troubling factors for Delhi:

Wang’s visit came while on a tour of South Asia- Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal – where he was discussing progress in the Belt and Road Initiative projects (BRI) and requested meetings in Delhi as well. This is significant since we have dealt at Worldview, India is not part of the BRI and actively opposes it.

The Chinese Foreign Minister came to Delhi after attending the OIC- Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Islamabad, where his comments on Kashmir were protested by the Modi government- this cast a shadow over his visit, and was raised by EAM Jaishankar during the meeting, but it did not derail the visit. (Nor did the political turmoil in Pakistan roil the China-Pakistan relationship)

Wang visited Afghanistan just before landing in Delhi, the first Foreign Minister of a P-5 nation to meet with the Taliban in Kabul including UN Designated terrorist and Taliban interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. Significantly, his visit coincided with Russian spl envoy Kabulov, and he discussed plans for a conference of Afghanistan’s land neighbours Iran, Tajikistan, China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Pakistan in Beijing next week. India is not invited to the meeting, although NSA Doval had invited China to the Delhi meeting of Afghan neighbours last year, which his counterpart Yang Jiechi declined.

Wang’s visit followed 2 days after the government engaged all its partners in the Quad- summits with Japanese and Australian PM and a visit by a senior US official to India. While he didn’t raise the Quad in his meetings in Delhi- China’s line on the Quad, which it calls an Asian NATO, an anti-China front has been very loudly articulated in Beijing.

So were there any areas of common understanding at all?

The Chinese FM, by visiting Delhi, and India by hosting him have indicated that they both see a purpose in continuing high level contacts to further ties between them

While not identical, both countries have adopted similiar votes at the UN, both abstaining in 10 votes so far, although China voted along with Russia in the 1 one prior to that. Neither are toeing the Western line and are not joining sanctions, and both have some sympathy for the Russian position. According to EAM, the common element was both called for an immediate ceasefire and both want an immediate return to dialogue and diplomacy. st

Both see upcoming summits as important prestige symbols- and while China is hopeful PM Modi will attend a BRICS, and possible RIC summit in China later this year, India will host the SCO summit and the G-20 next year, where it will want a full attendance including President Xi. Wang called these two years an Asian moment, said China doesn’t seek a unipolar Asia, and respects India’s traditional role in the region.

There are many moving parts to the India-China relationship at present- and clearly geopolitics both in India’s immediate neighbourhood and further afield were a big part of the Wang visit. But the government cannot give up its sharp focus on revolving the single biggest problem at present- and that is the presence of Chinese troops on territory India claims- and only a full demobilization and disengagement can lead to a de-escalation of that situation.

Reading recommendations:

Former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to China Nirupama Rao’s history of ties is a must read- filled with archives and rare insight: The Fractured Himalaya: India Tibet China 1949-62

Dragon on our Doorstep: Managing China through Military Power: some fairly radical and refreshing ideas by Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

There’s also a very up to date account by journalist Maroof Raza : Contested Lands: India, China and the Boundary Dispute.

My colleagues at The Hindu Stanly Johny and Ananth Krishnan have a cracker of a book that is very relevant called The Comrade and The Mullahs: China, Afghanistan and the New Asian Geopolitics.

And two more books with a slightly longer view:

Powershift: India-China Relations in a Multipolar World by Zorawar Daulet Singh

And India Turns East: International Engagement and US-China Rivalry by Frederic Grare


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Printable version | Mar 27, 2022 5:24:25 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/worldview-with-suhasini-haidar-decoding-wang-yis-visit-to-india/article65262416.ece