In Jaishankar-Wang Yi Phone Call, Promise of Ministerial Hotline, Further Easing of Situation

While Jaishankar had announced the phone conversation with a tweet on Thursday night, the two foreign offices issued detailed readouts only on Friday. 

New Delhi: With foreign ministers of both countries expressing satisfaction with the progress made in disengagement at the border, India and China on Thursday, February 25, agreed to set up a hotline number. 

The two ministers spoke to each other for the first time after respective military forces completed disengagement at the southern and northern banks of Pangong Tso at the LAC last week. India has called for broader “de-escalation” of troops at the Line of Actual Control, while China has stressed on the need to improve border mechanisms.

Since early May, the two sides have been locked in a military stand-off at multiple points, including at Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh. In June last year, 20 Indian soldiers and four members of the Chinese army were killed in a violent face-off at Galwan valley.

While Jaishankar had announced the conversation with a tweet on Thursday night, the two foreign offices issued detailed readouts on Friday. 

The common takeaway from both the press releases was that the two Asian neighbours had agreed to set up a hotline between the foreign ministers to “remain in touch” and “timely communication and exchange of views”.

Also read: Jaishankar, Wang Yi Review ‘Status of Disengagement’ in Phone Call

India and China had been talking about a hotline between the militaries as per the 2013 border agreement. But the project has been delayed for years

They also referred to their last face-to-face meeting in Moscow in September 2020, when both sides agreed to five guiding principles for future direction to relations.

Jaishankar indicated, as per the Ministry of External Affairs’ communique, that two sides had “maintained communication since then through both the diplomatic and military channels”. This continuous engagement has led to the recent breakthrough, he asserted. “This had led to progress as both sides had successfully disengaged in the Pangong Tso Lake area earlier this month,” noted the MEA.

The external affairs minister said that with the Pangong Tso lake area disengagement now over, it was the turn for quick resolution of the “remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh”. “EAM said that once disengagement is completed at all friction points, then the two sides could also look at broader de-escalation of troops in the area and work towards restoration of peace and tranquility”.

The Chinese readout said that “the situation on the ground has been noticeably eased” after the resolution at the lake on the LAC. Asserting that the two sides should cherish the “hard-won relaxation” to consolidate the progress, Wang also told his Indian counterpart they should “keep up the consultation momentum, further ease the situation, and improve the border management and control mechanisms”. 

Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of Pangong lake area in Eastern Ladakh where they had been deployed opposite each other for almost ten months now. Photo: PTI/Indian Army handout

“The two sides also need to advance the boundary talks to build up mutual trust and realize peace and tranquility in the border areas,” said the press release issued by Beijing.

The two ministers’ assessment of the lessons learned and the cause of the drift, not surprisingly, differed. Jaishankar reiterated that China had indulged in “provocative behaviour and unilateral attempts of the Chinese side to alter status quo”.

The Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi stated that there had been “some wavering and back-pedalling in India’s China policy, and practical cooperation between the two countries has been affected” in the past year. He was likely referring to India’s steps to ban Chinese mobile apps, stop participation of Chinese firms in strategic projects, and 5G trials.

However, as recent Indian government data shows, China had toppled the US to regain the position of India’s top trade partner in 2020. This was mainly due to India’s reliance on imported heavy machinery, telecom equipment and home appliances from China.

Also watch | China Not Keen on Further Disengagement, Withdrawal at Depsang Looks Unlikely: Ajai Shukla

Wang asserted that “decades of experience” has shown that “heightening differences does not help solve problems” and only “erodes the basis of mutual trust”. “A negative trajectory of bilateral relations will incur unnecessary costs and losses on both”.

As per the Chinese foreign ministry, he also repeated China’s position that the disputed boundary should not impact the rest of the relationship. They should handle the boundary question properly to prevent the bilateral relationship from sinking into a negative cycle. While that the two countries have boundary disputes is an objective fact, which should be taken seriously, it is not the whole of China-India relations, and it should be put at a proper place in the overall bilateral relations”.

Jaishankar also reiterated India’s stance on the same issue on the opposite end of China. “EAM said that Boundary Question may take time to resolve but disturbance of peace and tranquility including by violence, will inevitably have a damaging impact on the relationship”.

According to the Chinese readout, Jaishankar also noted that “having in mind the long-term development and larger picture of bilateral relations, [India] is ready to act on the important understandings between the leaders of both countries for the bilateral relationship to get back on track at an early date”.