The foreign ministers of India and China have agreed to establish a new hotline to ensure “timely communication” in the wake of last year's border crisis , but differed sharply on the way forward to restore relations in a 75-minute phone call on Thursday.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, “bilateral relations have been impacted severely over last year” and that while “the Boundary Question may take time to resolve”, the “disturbance of peace and tranquility, including by violence, will inevitably have a damaging impact on the relationship.”
He stressed that restoring normality to the broader relationship would first require complete disengagement and then de-escalation along the border. “It was necessary to disengage at all friction points in order to contemplate de-escalation of forces in this sector,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) quoted him as saying. “That alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquility and provide conditions for progress of our bilateral relationship.”
Border crisis impact
Underlining how both sides have viewed differently the impact of the border crisis on the broader relationship, Mr. Wang said “there has been some wavering and back-pedalling in India's China policy”, because of which “practical cooperation between the two countries has been affected.”
“Decades of experiences have shown repeatedly that heightening differences does not help solve problems, and that it only erodes the basis of mutual trust,” he said, adding that both sides should avoid the “wrong path of mutual misgivings and suspicion, still less the path of retrogression” and “should handle the boundary question properly to prevent the bilateral relationship from sinking into a negative cycle.”
“While that the two countries have boundary disputes is an objective fact, which should be taken seriously, it is not the whole of China-India relations, and it should be put at a proper place in the overall bilateral relations,” he stressed.
India, for its part, made it clear to China that it is not realistic to insulate the relationship from the boundary crisis, and emphasised that in its view, peace on the border is a prerequisite for the rest of the relationship to develop.
China, however, has hit out at India’s economic measures, such as banning Chinese apps and stricter curbs on investment following last year’s tensions, viewing India’s “whole of government” approach as going against a past consensus of containing differences while cooperating elsewhere.
Mr. Jaishankar said that with the completion of disengagement in Pangong Tso (lake) area, both sides “should now quickly resolve the remaining issues along the LAC” and “once disengagement is completed at all friction points, then the two sides could also look at broader de-escalation of troops in the area and work towards restoration of peace and tranquility."
Mr. Wang said the situation on the ground “has been noticeably eased” and he called for both sides “to cherish the hard-won relaxation, and work together to consolidate the progress, keep up the consultation momentum, further ease the situation, and improve the border management and control mechanisms.”
“The two sides also need to advance the boundary talks to build up mutual trust and realize peace and tranquility in the border areas,” he stated.
Agreeing to set up a hotline so both ministers could be in more regular contact, both sides stressed the importance of “timely” communication in the wake of last year’s crisis. This hotline will be in addition to the military hotline between the Indian Army’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and China’s Western Theatre Command.
Army Chief General Manoj Naravane said in January last year that the proposal for military hotline, which had been mired in bureaucratic delays for years, had been accepted by both sides after all procedural issues were resolved.
The two foreign ministers met in Moscow in September and agreed that the situation in the border was “not in the interest of either side” and to continue dialogue and “quickly disengage”.
Working out the modalities of disengagement, however, proved to be complicated and took several months. Both sides broadly agreed on a plan to disengage at the ninth round of military-level talks in January, which began to be implemented earlier this month.
On Thursday, the MEA said the completion of disengagement on the north bank and south bank of Pangong Tso (lake) last week was “a significant first step” towards resolving the remaining issues with China along the LAC.