Talking and listening: On Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s India visit

India and China will find it difficult to simply pick up the threads of their conversation

March 28, 2022 12:04 am | Updated 12:57 am IST

Brief as it was, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Delhi on Friday appears to have left behind more questions than answers on its purpose. The visit was a first by a senior Chinese official since the military standoff along the LAC began in April 2020. Since then, despite 15 rounds of border commander talks and eight rounds of meetings of the special Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC), friction areas remain — including Patrol Point (PP) 15, Demchok and Depsang — where troops have been amassed on both sides. However, it appeared that during his meetings, separately with NSA Ajit Doval, followed by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Mr. Wang proposed no new mechanism or formulation to break the logjam in those talks, as had been the case earlier. Instead, the Chinese side only repeated that India must put the differences on the border issue “in the proper place in bilateral relations”, and revive bilateral talks on all issues. The suggestion was part of a three-step formula, according to a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement that included taking a long-term, ‘civilisational’ view of India-China ties, seeing each others’ development as a “win-win” and cooperating at the multilateral sphere. The last point was a reference to China’s turn to host the BRICS summit later this year, which Mr. Wang hoped Prime Minister Modi would attend, and India’s turn to host the SCO and G-20 summits next year, where Chinese President Xi Jinping would be among the invitees.

However, neither Mr. Wang nor his hosts in the Government answered why, if his message did not differ from the past, he was received in Delhi at all. That he was merely in the region — visiting Pakistan for an OIC conference; Afghanistan to meet with the Taliban ahead of another conference in Beijing, and Nepal to further bilateral cooperation and infrastructure projects — and decided to “drop in” does not seem to suffice as a reason, when bilateral ties remain at a standstill. Nor does it explain why the Modi government, which has consistently said it would only hold bilateral talks about resolving the border standoff, departed from this precept to discuss bilateral and international issues. Neither side announced Mr. Wang’s arrival until the first meetings on Friday, indicating that there is something more behind the scenes. It is also possible that his outreach stems from a desire to compare notes on Ukraine, where India and China find themselves at odds with the western sanctions regime that threatens to isolate Russia and split global transactions into a “dollar vs non-dollar” system, while also finding themselves not entirely comfortable with Mr. Putin’s actions. Regardless of any common understanding on other issues, however, it is clear that New Delhi and Beijing cannot simply pick up the threads of their conversation until there is a full understanding of events since April 2020, and demobilisation by the PLA, followed by the disengagement of troops, is completed.

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