Analysis | Shots fired at LAC dim hopes of breakthrough in Jaishankar-Wang talks

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. File   | Photo Credit: AP

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reached Moscow on Tuesday night to attend a meeting of the 8-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which is expected to prepare for the SCO summit later this year, possibly in October.

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All eyes, however, are on an expected meeting between Mr. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the meeting (September 9-10), amidst a sudden escalation in military tensions at the Line of Actual Control after the first gunshots fired there in 45 years. This would be the first face-to-face meeting between the two foreign ministers since the beginning of tensions four months ago.

“The Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) meeting in Moscow will review the preparations for the forthcoming SCO Summit and also exchange views on international and regional issues,” said a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). “External Affairs Minister’s visit in Moscow will include the participation in the Council of SCO Foreign Ministers and other bilateral meetings,” it added.

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While officials would not confirm the timing for the India-China meeting, Mr. Jaishankar had acknowledged last week that he would meet with Mr. Wang whom he had known “for a very long time”. On Monday, he said the “very serious situation” at the LAC called for “very, very deep conversations between the two sides at a political level”.

The meeting between the foreign ministers will follow a week after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe, also in Moscow, to discuss easing LAC tensions, but made no breakthrough.

The diplomatic challenge ahead of Mr. Jaishankar is heightened by a number of factors, including the fact that the current situation at the LAC is unprecedented, said experts, with undertones of the run-up to the previous India-China war in 1962.

Also read: After fresh tensions in Ladakh, China says it hopes for disengagement as soon as possible

“The Chinese have taken a rather boiler plate approach so far, talking about “rights and wrongs” just as they did in 1959 as relations began to deteriorate. But political level contacts must continue even as the EAM said yesterday that the crystal ball is pretty clouded at the moment. The situation is not looking good,” said former foreign secretary and former Ambassador to China Nirupama Menon Rao. “I don’t believe there is ground for much optimism on outcomes for such a meeting given the positions taken by each side,” she told The Hindu.

The gunshots fired on Monday, which India has blamed the Chinese PLA for starting, were the first firearms used since 1975 at the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, and the first in Ladakh since the 1962 war. In addition, the killing of soldiers at Galwan in June were also the first since 1975, while the death of an SFF soldier, who stepped on a vintage landmine while patrolling near Pangong Tso last week, was the first publicly known killing of a Tibetan soldier at the LAC in Ladakh.

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It remains to be seen whether the Jaishankar-Wang meeting in Moscow will yield a disengagement and de-escalation of the hostilities between both sides. Officials would not comment on whether that could even require an intervention from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had stepped in during the Doklam crisis of 2017, and had met on two occasions, including once in Hamburg while the standoff was underway.

Despite 18 meetings over the last few years, and two informal summits between them, the two leaders have not spoken yet during the current crisis. They are currently slated to meet next during the G-20 summit in Saudi Arabia in November, unless the SCO FM meeting beginning Wednesday in Moscow decides on a date for the SCO summit prior to that.

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 4:50:50 AM |

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