Three months after they met in New Delhi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi held talks on the sidelines of the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Bali on Thursday. While the talks that lasted an hour appeared to be cordial, New Delhi and Beijing crossed swords over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama, and Enforcement Directorate (ED) searches at the offices of the Chinese company Vivo in India.
Mr. Jaishankar said the meeting was his first engagement after reaching the Indonesian resort city, where the G-20 summit will be held in November, and that the two sides discussed resolving the border stand-off that began in April 2020.
“EAM [External Affairs Minister] called for an early resolution of all the outstanding issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. Recalling the disengagement achieved in some friction areas, EAM reiterated the need to sustain the momentum to complete disengagement from all the remaining areas to restore peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, adding that the two Ministers agreed that they should continue regular contact at military and diplomatic meetings, and looked ahead to the next (16th) round of Senior Commanders meeting at the Chushul-Moldo border point “at an early date”.
The Chinese readout made no mention of the LAC crisis, instead emphasising Mr. Wang’s remarks calling on both sides to “strengthen coordination and cooperation and jointly promote more democratic international relations and a fairer international order”. He said both sides had “maintained communication and exchanges” and “effectively managed differences”.
The last Senior Commanders’ meeting on March 11 had been unable to make much forward movement, though previous rounds have seen the disengagement of Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops at Pangong North and Galwan and Gogra post at PP17-A, after the PLA transgressions and killings at Galwan that took place in the summer of 2020. Disengagement at Hot Springs point or PP15, as well as Depsang and Demchok areas occupied by the Chinese side, still remains to be resolved, according to officials.
“EAM reiterated that India-China relationship is best served by observing the three mutuals — mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests,” the MEA added.
As with their last meeting, when Mr. Wang visited Delhi in March, Mr. Jaishankar discussed other issues with him, including the status of Indian students who have not been able to return to China after the COVID-19 lockdowns, and “stressed the need for expediting the process and facilitating the return of students”, the MEA said.
Even as the meeting took place in Bali, China lodged a strong protest over birthday celebrations for the Dalai Lama in India on Wednesday, particularly the engagement of “Indian officials” with the Tibetan leader. Mr. Modi telephoned the Dalai Lama, while the Himachal CM attended the celebrations in Dharamshala. Minister of State Meenakshi Lekhi attended an event in Delhi to mark the day.
“The Indian side should fully recognise the anti-China separatist nature of the 14th Dalai Lama and abide by its commitment to China, speak and act prudently and stop using Tibet related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” said Zhao Lijan, Chinese MFA spokesperson said.
Asked about the protest, the MEA spokesperson said the birthday messages were part of India’s “consistent policy” to treat the Dalai Lama as an “honoured guest” who was accorded courtesies and freedom to conduct religious and spiritual activities.
China had also issued a strong statement on the ED searches on Vivo, a Chinese mobile phone company, saying that “frequent investigations by the Indian side into Chinese enterprises not only disrupt” businesses, but also “chills the confidence and willingness of market entities from other countries, including Chinese enterprises to invest and operate in India.” Denying the charge, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi asked companies operating in India to “follow the law of the land”.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi also “appreciated” India’s support during China’s BRICS Chairship this year, the MEA said, including a virtual summit which Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended, hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Jaishankar-Wang meeting, as well as another engagement in Tashkent for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Minister’s meeting on July 28-29 are expected to discuss the course ahead for a possible Modi-Xi meeting later this year at the SCO summit in mid-September and G-20 in November, depending on whether both leaders attend. India will also host both the SCO and G-20 summits in 2023 where the Chinese President would be invited.
“[Mr. Wang] assured China’s support for India’s upcoming G-20 and SCO Presidency. They agreed to remain in touch,” the MEA statement added.