Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Monday said the situation along the Line of Actual Control, the site of the escalating military tensions between India and China, was “very serious” and called for “very, very deep conversations” between the two sides at a political level. Jaishankar was speaking at an event organised by the The Indian Express.
The foreign minister added that the “state of the border with China cannot be de-linked from the state of the overall relationship” between the countries. “If peace and tranquillity on the border is not a given, then it cannot be that the rest of the relationship continues on the same basis”, he said.
Jaishankar’s statement came ahead of a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Russia on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Hours later, China accused India of “outrageously firing warning shots” in a new confrontation on the southern bank of Pangong Tso lake, describing it as as “a serious military provocation”. However, India on Tuesday rejected the accusations and said Chinese troops attempted to close in on Indian forward positions along the Line of Actual Control and “fired a few rounds in the air”.
Jaishankar said that tranquility along the border was the basis of India’s relationship with China. “If you look at the last 30 years, because there was peace and tranquillity on the border – there were problems also…I am not disregarding that – that allowed the rest of the relationship to progress,” he said. “As a result, China became [India’s] second largest trading partner…Clearly peace and tranquillity is the basis for the relationship.”
The foreign minister added that there have been several understandings between the countries on border management, which go back to 1993, and “fairly clearly stipulate” that both sides will keep forces at the minimum level at the border. “And the subsequent agreements we had, they shape the behaviour of troops, and what are the restrains which should be on them. If these are not observed, then it raises very, very important questions,” he said.
Jaishankar added: “At this moment, I note that this very serious situation has been going on since the beginning of May. This calls for very, very deep conversations between the two sides at a political level.”
When asked about what he thought would be the future of India-China ties, the foreign minister said that “this is one area my crystal ball is a little clouded”. Jaishankar said he would leave the matter “open-ended”, adding that both countries “must try to find mutual accommodation, because their ability to do that will determine [if there’s] an Asian century or not”.
The India-China conflict
Tensions between India and China have flared up again after the June 15 clash in Galwan Valley, when 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed.
Several rounds of military level talks have failed to break the impasse. Both sides have accused the other of fresh provocations, including allegations of soldiers crossing into each other’s territory, in the months after their deadliest standoff in decades.
Last week, the Ministry of External Affairs had said that Chinese troops engaged in “provocative action” on August 31, while discussions between ground commanders were underway. This followed by earlier moves on the intervening night of August 29 and 30, which, the Indian Army said, were “provocative” military movements to change the status quo.
On September 4, Jaishankar had suggested that a solution for the continuing tensions with China has to be found through diplomacy. The foreign minister had said it was imperative for both the countries to reach an “accommodation” not just for themselves, but the world as well.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on September 5 in Moscow, where both sides had agreed to peacefully “de-escalate” the situation. The meeting was the first face-to-face political contact between India and China since the standoff erupted in Ladakh four months ago.