India and China on Thursday agreed on a five-point plan to defuse tensions between the countries and said the current situation in the border areas of Ladakh is not in the interest of either side. They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should “continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions”.
The two countries agreed to the plan during talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on Thursday. Jaishankar and Wang are in Moscow to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting. They met at a Russia-India-China lunch earlier in the day.
This was the first face-to-face meeting between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers since the build-up of border tensions in Ladakh began in May.
A joint press statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs on Friday said both sides reached the five-point consensus after a “frank and constructive” discussions by the two ministers. “The two ministers agreed that both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus of the leaders on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes,” the statement said, referring to the two informal summits held between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2018 and 2019.
“The two ministers agreed that both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters,” the statement added.
The two sides also agreed to continue to have dialogue and communication through the Special Representative mechanism on the India-China boundary question. They also agreed in this context that the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs should continue its meetings. The two countries’ military commanders have held several rounds of talks to defuse the tense standoff but have failed to break the impasse.
Last week, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had met his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of another SCO meeting in Moscow. While that meeting ended with both sides stressing the need to peacefully “de-escalate” the situation, tensions flared once again after shots were fired at the Line of Actual Control on September 7.
After the two foreign ministers met on Thursday, Beijing said it was imperative to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other “dangerous actions” in the border area in Ladakh that violate the commitments made by the two sides, state-run news agency Xinhua reported. The country said it was important to move back “all personnel and equipment that have trespassed” the border.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s statement also referred to the ﬁve-point consensus reached between the two sides “after a full, in-depth discussion”, but did not elaborate.
Wang stressed that China and India currently needed cooperation and mutual trust, and not confrontation or suspicion. “The relationship between India and China has once again come at crossroads,” Wang added. “But as long as the two sides keep moving the relationship in the right direction, there will be no difficulty or challenge that cannot be overcome.”
“Wang outlined China’s stern position on the situation in the border areas, emphasizing that the imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides,” the statement added.
Wang further told Jaishankar that the “frontier troops must quickly disengage so that the situation may de-escalate,” China said, adding that Wang also told India that the Chinese side is willing to support enhanced dialogue between the frontier troops to resolve specific issues. “China will stay in touch with the Indian side through diplomatic and military channels and be committed to restoring peace and tranquility in the border areas,” he added.
The Chinese statement quoted Jaishankar as saying that the Indian side does not consider the development of India-China relations to be dependent on the settlement of the boundary question. This is in sharp contrast to the statements made by India on the standoff, where it has categorically emphasised it will not accept any attempt to change the status quo along the border and that peace on the boundary was a prerequisite to taking forward the broader relationship.
The statement added that the Indian side “is prepared to work with China to ease tensions on the border through dialogue and negotiation and to restore and maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas”.
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.
On September 7, 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”. India denied that 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”. This was the first confirmed use of firearms on the Line of Actual Control by troops in more than four decades.
On September 1, 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.
On Monday, Jaishankar had said the situation along the Line of Actual Control was “very serious” and called for “very, very deep conversations” between the two sides at a political level. “This is one area my crystal ball is a little clouded,” Jaishankar said when asked about the India-China relationship.
Unidentified Indian government officials said the standoff “can take any trajectory,” but added that the situation was not warlike, NDTV reported. They said there is hope that ‘’both sides are trying to stop the actual shooting from happening”.