New Delhi: External affairs minister S. Jaishankar told visiting Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Friday morning that Sino-Indian ties cannot be normalised as long as the situation in the border areas of the Ladakh sector remained “abnormal”. During three hours of “open, candid and honest” talks in which the Chinese side was keen that Prime Minister Narendra Modi participate in the BRICS Summit to be held in China later this year, Mr Jaishankar bluntly told Mr Wang that disengagement between troops of both sides a the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has to be completed “in its entirety” first.
He told reporters later that the current situation in ties was still “work in progress” and that there were “no timelines” decided at the meeting for the disengagement to be completed, adding that India wants the status quo to be restored which existed before April 2020.
By all available indications, Mr Wang — who also met National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval for about an hour in the morning — did not give any clear commitment or timelines on Chinese troops disengaging from all friction points in the Ladakh sector where they had transgressed into about two years ago, other than indicating his desire for return to normalcy in ties and the “larger significance” of the relationship.
In response to a question, Mr Jaishankar further told Mr Wang that “disputes should be resolved without use or threat of use of force and nor should there be attempts to unilaterally change the status quo”, adding that bilateral ties should be guided by “mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests”.
EAM Jaishankar also raised objections about the references made by his Chinese counterpart to the Kashmir issue at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers’ conclave in Islamabad on Wednesday and hoped Beijing would take an independent stand on ties with India and not allow itself to be influenced by any other country.
This was the first time that either foreign minister has visited the other’s country since the deadly Galwan valley clash between Indian and Chinese troops in mid-June 2020, although they have met in third countries such as Russia and Tajikistan besides speaking on the phone.
Mr Wang was keen to call on PM Modi but the meeting did not take place probably because New Delhi was cold to the idea in the current situation. Also, the visit of Mr Wang to India itself was unannounced because, as the EAM himself put it, the Chinese did not want the visit to be announced earlier and so there was no mutual agreement on prior announcement of the visit.
The Ukraine conflict also came up during the discussion, with both ministers agreeing that there was need for an immediate ceasefire and return to dialogue. Another issue discussed was the situation in Afghanistan though China has not extended an invitation to India to attend a conclave on Afghanistan scheduled to be held in Beijing soon.
EAM Jaishankar also raised the plight of Indian students who are unable to return to China to resume their education amid continuing Covid restrictions imposed by China. Mr Wang apparently agreed to discuss the issue with officials in his country.
In a media interaction later, the EAM said, “As you are all aware, my talks with foreign minister Wang Yi have just concluded. We met for about three hours and addressed a broad and substantive agenda in an open and candid manner. We discussed our bilateral relations that have been disturbed as a result of Chinese actions since April 2020... I was very honest in my discussions with the Chinese foreign minister, especially in conveying our national sentiments on this issue. The frictions and tensions that arise from China’s deployments since April 2020 cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between two neighbours.”
The EAM added, “ Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke about China’s desire for a return to normalcy, while also referring to the larger significance of our ties. I was equally forthcoming that India wants a stable and predictable relationship. But restoration of normalcy will obviously require a restoration of peace and tranquillity. If we are both committed to improving our ties, then this commitment must find full expression in ongoing disengagement talks... The completion of disengagement is necessary for discussions on de-escalation to take place. I would describe our current situation as work in progress, obviously at a slower pace than desirable and my discussions with FM Wang Yi today were aimed at expediting the process.”
Elaborating on interactions with Mr Wang earlier and its impact, Mr Jaishankar said, “Foreign minister Wang Yi and I have been in touch with each other over the last two years, even if we had not visited each other’s country... And the focus of these interactions has naturally been on the situation in our border areas. Our meeting had led to an understanding on disengagement and de-escalation. The challenge, of course, has been to implement it on the ground. We have had 15 rounds of talks between Senior Commanders and progress has been achieved on several friction points from the disengagement perspective. This needs to be taken forward since.”
He added, “The impact of the tensions in the border areas on the overall relationship has been visible in the last two years. This is only natural since peace and tranquillity in the border areas have been the foundation of stable and cooperative ties. Indeed, we have agreements that were designed explicitly to strengthen this foundation and prevent the kind of situation that we are seeing today.”
On other issues discussed, the EAM said, “I also took up strongly the predicament of Indian students studying in China who have not been allowed to return, citing Covid restrictions. We hope that China will take a non-discriminatory approach since it involves the future of so many young people. Minister Wang Yi assured me that he would speak to the relevant authorities on his return on this matter. He also recognised the particular concerns that medical students have in this difficult situation. Also on the agenda were matters pertaining to trade and investment. We continue to press for fairer market access.”