New Delhi: After Indian and Chinese foreign ministers met in Moscow, the two countries announced that they have reached five points of consensus, which include directions to border troops to continue dialogue, quickly disengage and maintain distance, as well as the need for new confidence-building measures.
On Thursday, Indian external affairs S. Jaishankar and Chinese state councillor Wang Yi met for the first time after the start of the crisis, just six days after their ministerial colleagues in charge of defence had also held their first face-to-face meeting to discuss the stand-off on September 4.
In between, Indian and Chinese troops accused each other firing the first shots at the Line of Actual Control in over four decades on September 7.
The meeting began much later than scheduled, as earlier appointments at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation ministerial summit had been delayed.
China has been the first off the block to issue a press release on the meeting. “The two sides reached a ﬁve-point consensus regarding the current situation after a full, in-depth discussion,” said the read-out from the Chinese foreign ministry.
However, there were no further details about the five points in the three-page note that was released in the early hours of Friday.
An hour later, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a “joint statement”, which listed five points of concurrence reached by the two foreign ministers after a “frank and constructive” discussion that lasted two and half hours.
These five points are:
1. 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.
2. The two foreign ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas 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.
3. The two ministers agreed that both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters.
4. 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 (WMCC) on India-China border affairs should also continue its meetings.
5. The ministers agreed that as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new confidence-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
While the two sides have talked of quick disengagement, there is no explicit mention of final de-escalation or restoration of status quo ante in the five points.
According to the Chinese press release, state councillor Wang said that bilateral relations between the two Asian neighbours “have once again come to a crossroads”. “But (he added) as long as the two sides keep moving the relationship in the right direction, there will be no difficulty or challenge that can’t be overcome.”
Indian sources stated that Jaishankar underlined that since the resumption of ambassadorial level relations in 1976, bilateral ties have developed on a largely positive trajectory. “While there have been incidents from time to time, peace and tranquility have largely prevailed in the border areas. As a result, India-China cooperation also developed in a broad range of domains, giving the relationship a more substantive character,” sources said, quoting the Indian minister.
During the discussion, the Chinese official outlined “China’s stern position on the situation in the border areas, emphasising that the imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as ﬁring and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides”.
Interestingly, the Chinese statement does not mention the ubiquitous line included in all public updates from Beijing that India carries the burden of responsibility for triggering the current crisis.
Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart that India remained concerned at the massing of Chinese troops at the LAC, which was not in accordance with the 1993 and 1996 agreements. There has been “no credible explanation for this deployment”, which the minister said has created flash points along the LAC.
The Indian side said that the Chinese frontline troops’ “provocative behaviour” at the various stand-off points showed disregard for border pacts and protocols.
“The Indian side clearly conveyed that it expected full adherence to all agreements on management of border areas and would not countenance any attempt to change the status quo unilaterally. It was also emphasised that the Indian troops had scrupulously followed all agreements and protocols pertaining to the management of the border areas,” said sources.
Jaishankar underlined the need for “comprehensive disengagement” of troops at all the stand-off points in order to prevent any future “untoward incident”. He also stated that the “final disposition of the troop deployment to their permanent posts and the phasing of the process is to be worked out by the military commanders”.
The Chinese state councillor reportedly stated that frontier troops must “quickly disengage” and all personnel and equipment should be moved back from the areas that they have “trespassed”.
“The Chinese side is willing to support enhanced dialogue between the frontier troops on both sides to resolve speciﬁc issues. The Chinese side 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,” said the press communique.
Wang mentions other talking points, including the need to “ensure the stability of the overall relationship and preserve mutual trust”, even if the border situation gets difficult. “Wang stressed that as two large developing countries emerging rapidly, what China and India need right now is cooperation, not confrontation; and mutual trust, not suspicion.”
The Chinese press note also stated that Jaishankar said that India “does not consider the development of India-China relations to be dependent on the settlement of the boundary question and India does not want to go backwards”.
While the Chinese press note seemed to give the impression that Indian external affairs minister said the border and wider relationship was not linked, sources clarified that Jaishankar’s words were only about the final settlement.
“While the Indian side recognised that a solution to the boundary question required time and effort, it was also clear that the maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border areas was essential to the forward development of ties,” said sources.
Since the Ladakh stand-off has inevitably impacted development of bilateral relations, urgent resolution to the current situation was not in interest of either country, Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart.
The read-out from Beijing claimed that Jaishankar told Wang that India’s policy to China has not changed, and neither does New Delhi believe that China’s Indian policy has been altered
During the current border crisis, the last time that Jaishankar and Wang had spoken with each other was on the phone just two days after 20 Indian soldiers died in a violent face-off with Chinese soldiers at Galwan valley on June 15.
Those deadly clashes had occurred 1.5 months after India had detected an inordinate number of Chinese troops positioned far beyond their usual patrolling limits at the LAC. While Indian and Chinese military commanders had drawn up a disengagement plan, the road to its implementation has been bumpy.
With the disengagement process stalled, Indian troops have been attempting to pre-empt possible Chinese movement by taking up dominating position on peaks on India’s side of the LAC.