India-China Foreign Ministers Meet – sweet nothings

The face to face meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jai Shankar and his Chinese counterpart took place in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO) summit on September 10. This was their first face to face meeting since the Chinese aggression in Ladakh in May 2020 though they had talked earlier through video conferencing and also participated in the BRICS summit similarly. Their over two-hour bilateral meeting between in Moscow which is being bandied a “major breakthrough” by some TV channels, resulted in following consensus.

  • 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 current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. Therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.
  • 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.
  • Continue to have dialogue and communication through the Special Representative mechanism on the India-China boundary question and the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC), should also continue its meetings.
  • As the situation eases, both sides should expedite work to conclude new Confidence Building Measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquility in the border areas.

The statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reads that “both Ministers had a frank and constructive discussion on the developments in the India-China border areas as well as on India-China relations”. The “constructive” part is the usual diplomatic jargon whereas there is little that was achieved, as was perceived before the meeting. For Jaishankar it was just another count in meeting his counterpart in person. For Wang Yi, the squint-eyed ‘silver fox’, he possibly hoped India can be tricked yet again, providing another opportunity for backstabbing.

China indulged in attacking our troops in Galwan on June 15-16 while Corps Commander-level meetings were on. Again, while talking of disengagement on the hotline, China attempted yet another intrusion on the same night south of Pangong Tso lake. The height of Beijing’s lies are reflected by the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying when she stated on September 1, 2020, “Seventy-odd years since the founding of new China, China never provoked any war or conflict and never occupied an inch of other country’s territory. China border troops always strictly abide by the LAC and never crossed the line.” China may defend that statement by saying they are not interested in “an inch” of any country, their focus only being in hundreds of square kilometers.

China has repeatedly proved that any agreement is like toilet paper for Beijing and mechanism and confidence measures are means to lull India into complacency. The repeated talk of disengagement including this time between the two foreign ministers is meaningless since China continues to brand India the aggressor and insists that PLA is deployed in Chinese territory. Apparently the important Indian demand for PLA to revert to April 2020 positions was not even discussed. Jaishankar probably did not raise the issue thinking Wang Yi will not agree to it. But scripting it part of the discussion and in the MEA statement would have made all the difference. Isn’t that what diplomacy is all about? As of now the bilateral meeting has achieved sweet nothings.

The ball is now in China’s court. President Xi Jinping, Commander-in-Chief of PLA, police and all para-military forces appears frustrated with Indian troops occupying dominating heights hitherto unoccupied within Indian Territory. The fact that Indians are looking down the PLA garrison at Moldo and are dominating avenues for Chinese intrusions in these areas is upsetting Beijing. Repeated attempts at intrusions, their failure and the incident of warning shots being fired are all proof of this. If China wants to dislodge Indian troops from these heights, it will have to risk limited conflict. That decision rests with Xi Jinping whose brain scan is under heavy security.

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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