India, China Have no Choice but to Find Equilibrium, Says Jaishankar

At his Raisina Dialogue session, the external affairs minister touched upon a range of topics from the 5G spectrum trials to the RCEP and then, Kashmir and the anti-CAA protests.

New Delhi: India and China have no choice but to find an equilibrium with both countries rising at the same time in close geographical proximity, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said on Wednesday.

“Neither country can get this relationship wrong,” Jaishankar said on day two of the Raisina Dialogue, in the session titled ‘The India Way: Preparing for a Century of Growth and Contest’.

He asserted that one of the reasons for the two Asian giants to work together is that “we are neighbours”.

“It is vital for neighbours to reach an understanding,” said Jaishankar. He admitted that as neighbours, both countries do have “issues”, but expressed the feeling that those could be managed.

India and China have a long-running boundary dispute, over which they have even fought a war. But, both countries have applied various mechanisms to manage the ground situation at the border, which has ensured that not a single bullet has been fired between them in the last half of a century.

Jaishankar noted that the India-china relationship has an unique characteristic that no two powers in close geographical proximity have “gone up in the international order at the same time”. 

Also read: Asia’s Three Futures and the Place of India and China in It

“Each of the countries are reaching a new equilibrium with the world and each other. It is absolutely important that the two countries reach an equilibrium,” said the Indian external affairs minister.

“This is a must, not a choice,” he asserted, adding that he was confident that Beijing held a similar view.

He noted that while India and China have to get along with each other, “what will be its basis and how does it actually work…(that) is a work in progress”.

In 2017, Indian and Chinese soldiers were eyeball-to-eyeball in Bhutan’s Doklam region for more than 90 days. Since then, both sides have consciously de-escalated the situation by initiating an annual series of ‘informal’ summits at the leadership level.

An audience member asked a question on whether Jaishankar’s statement on needing to engage with China contradicted the Indian position to withdraw from negotiations to conclude Asia’s mega free trade pact, RCEP.

One of the key sticking points for India is that RCEP did not have adequate protection against import surge from countries like China. 

“At the end of day, it (RCEP) is an FTA,” said Jaishankar, adding that India will evaluate it on trade merits.

India has not closed its mind to it, he further said, asserting that the ball, however, is in the court of the 15 other RCEP members.

While he did not refer to the issue of 5G technology, Jaishankar noted that in today’s world, India “can’t just deal with technology as economics”. “Technology is strategic,” he added.

While US has been leading a front to close the door on Chinese companies to participate in 5G investment in third countries, India recently permitted Huawei to take part in the upcoming trials for 5G networks.

Earlier, elaborating on the title of the session, Jaishankar said that the ‘India way’ was not be a “disruptionist power”, but rather to be a pillar of stability. “It is the India way to be more of a decider and not an abstainer”.

He asserted that that India “must be the voice of the South” and that “brand India” must be amplified. 

Jaishankar also asserted that India has been one of few countries in the world to have made a positive contribution towards climate change. He claimed that in the last five years, India’s capacity to deliver projects has improved. The minister proclaimed that New Delhi has completed 53 out of the 142 Indian-sponsored connectivity projects around the neighbourhood and the world.

There were no direct questions about Kashmir developments or protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, but the moderator invited Jaishankar to reflect on the implications of these domestic steps in the last few months.

Jaishankar replied that other countries have to realise that India’s challenges of terrorism and migration are the “national variant” of what they are also facing. “They should reflect on what has been the response in other countries…on naturalisation, what are the global norms…Don’t get fixated on the dates and forget the lines”.