While India’s External Affairs Minister said that the continuing impasse was ‘visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner’, China’s Foreign Minister called on both sides to ‘place the boundary issue in an appropriate position’.
While India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar conveyed to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday that the continuing impasse along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was “visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner”, the Chinese Minister offered a starkly different message, calling on both sides to “place the boundary issue in an appropriate position”.
Mr. Jaishankar reiterated India’s view in their talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting — their first meeting since September last year in Moscow — that the LAC crisis would have a bearing on broader ties. “Assessing the overall relationship, the External Affairs Minister emphasised that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas has been the foundation for the development of ties since 1988,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) quoted him as saying, adding that attempts to change the status quo last year “disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements” and “have inevitably affected ties”.
Mr. Wang, in contrast, said in China’s view the boundary should be kept “in an appropriate place” and it should be addressed while “expanding” other “positive aspects” of the relationship, an argument that Delhi has rejected.
He said “the two sides should place the boundary issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations and create favourable conditions for the settlement of differences through negotiation by expanding the positive aspects of bilateral cooperation,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Beijing said.
He also said relations “continue to be dominated by cooperation, mutual benefit and complementarity, healthy competition and avoidance of confrontation”. India has said such a state of relations will not be possible until there is disengagement and then de-escalation along the border. Mr. Wang also repeated China’s view that “the responsibility does not lie with China” for the LAC crisis, another point of difference.
Both also differed in their assessment of how to tackle the remaining issues along the LAC, with problems unresolved in several areas, including Depsang, Demchok, Gogra and Hot Springs, after the February disengagement at Pangong Lake. Mr. Jaishankar said “the successful disengagement in the Pangong Lake Area earlier this year had created conditions for resolving the remaining issues” and noted “the situation in remaining areas is still unresolved.”
Mr. Wang did not refer to any remaining issues but mentioned disputed areas. He said China “is ready to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the issues that require urgent treatment through negotiation and consultation with the Indian side.” What those issues are remains unclear.
He said that since their September meeting in Moscow, frontline troops “disengaged in the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Lake area, and the situation in the China-India border area has generally been easing.” He said it was important to “strictly abide by the agreement and consensus between the two sides, refrain from taking any unilateral actions in the sensitive disputed areas, and avoid the recurrence of the situation due to misunderstanding and misjudgment”.
India’s statement agreed on neither side taking unilateral actions, but also noted the agreement between both sides at the last meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on border affairs on June 25 to “convene at the earliest” the next meeting of military commanders. This was not mentioned in the Chinese readout, and the view in New Delhi is Beijing has since February dragged its feet on talks to resolve the pending issues.
Both did, however, agree that the current situation suited neither side. Mr. Jaishankar said “both sides had agreed that a prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side.” Mr. Wang, for his part, said “relations between India and China are still at a low point” which “is not in anyone’s interest”.
He also said China’s “strategic judgment on China-India relations remains unchanged”, which is, however, a view that is not entirely shared by New Delhi in the wake of the LAC crisis of last year.