No Reason Why India, China Cannot Handle Current Border Dispute: S. Jaishankar

The foreign secretary said the consensus between India and China to not allow their differences to become disputes underlines the “strategic maturity” with which the two countries "must continue to approach each other".

Jaishankar spoke at the S.T. Lee annual lecture at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Credit: PTI/Reuters

S. Jaishankar spoke at the S.T. Lee annual lecture at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Credit: PTI/Reuters

New Delhi: Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar reiterated on Tuesday, July 11, that the situation at Doklam was related to the boundary tri-junction with Bhutan, but also asserted that there was no reason that India and China would not be able to handle this latest issue.

Jaishankar was speaking at the S.T. Lee annual lecture at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, where the majority of questions from the audience were related to the current situation at Doklam.

During the question and answer session, he said that “no part of the border has been agreed on the ground”.

“It is a likely from time to time that there are differences. It is not the first time that it has happened,” he added, in the context of the ongoing stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops at ‘turning point’. While India and Bhutan claim that Doklam is Bhutanese territory, China has said that its soldiers were building a road on its own terrain.

“How do you handle it is a test of our maturity. I see no reason having handled so many situations in the past, that we will not handle this,” said Jaishankar.

The Indian foreign secretary was also asked whether India could do a repeat in Southeast Asia of its actions in Bhutan.

He replied in the manner of India’s official statement last week that the construction of the road by Chinese government “represented a significant change of status-quo with serious security implications for India.”

“I think the first point to make is we have an issue because whatever happening out there is related to tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan. My ministry issued a statement on this on June 29. If you look at the position articulated it is centered around our concerns and legitimate interests on this matter,” he said.

Also read: Current Stand-Off an Attempt by China to Change the Status Quo at Tri-Junction: Shivshankar Menon

He added that the issue in Southeast Asia over its maritime dispute with China was not comparable. “I think where developments in Southeast Asia are concerned, it is in nature of broader international context,” Jaishankar added.

On July 5, the state-run tabloid Global Times published an editorial that called on China to prevent India from “oppressing” Bhutan and Sikkim. This has been part of a series of reports in the Chinese state media that have been stridently accusing India of forcing Bhutan to lodge its protest with China.

When an audience raised the matter of ‘China’ talking of Sikkim independence, Jaishankar noted, “Whatever was said on Sikkim was said by a particular newspaper.. journal as per my recollection”.

Without naming Global Times, he said, “That journal has a certain reputation. It thrives itself on such a reputation. You need to take it.. you need to understand where that particular observation was made and take it as serious as it deserves to be taken”.

Giving a larger picture of India-China relations, he said in his speech the that “big debate is about the opportunities and risks that emanate from this twin rise.”

“Skewing the analysis in the direction of one at the expense of the other could mislead us. In truth, the India-China relationship by now has acquired so many dimensions and so much substance that reducing it to black and white argumentation cannot be a serious proposition,” said Jaishankar.

He noted that there were differences on the “alarming” trade deficit, lack of market access, terrorism, nuclear energy access, connectivity and the boundary. “But the fact is that today, India-China relations are really multi-faceted.”

Jaishankar referred to the June meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Astana at the SCO Summit. He said that the two leaders reached a “consensus” on “two key points: that at a time of global uncertainty, India-China relations are a factor of stability, and in their relationship, India and China must not allow differences to become disputes.”

“This consensus underlines the strategic maturity with which the two countries must continue to approach each other,” he urged.

Indian officials had earlier pointed out that the Astana meeting had taken place after Chinese troops had destroyed an old Indian bunker at Doklam. After the discussions, the Indian delegation had felt that both sides were on the same page, but they were in for a rude shock when a Chinese military construction team began to construct a road in Bhutanese territory a week later.