By Arun Joshi
India has laid down the ground rules in very firm manner for improving ties with China – the first condition is the resolution of the current situation in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control where Chinese troops have created a tense standoff situation for the past over 17 months. The low ebb in the bilateral relations, it has been emphasized, cannot be overcome unless the LAC issue is resolved to the mutual satisfaction of Delhi and Beijing.
Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in their at Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization ( SCO) – a grouping of eight Asian countries and also Russia, that the bilateral relations of the two countries were at “ low ebb”. It was agreed that the prolongation of the existing situation in eastern Ladakh was “ not in the interest of either side as it was impacting the relationship in a negative manner.” The statement regarding the meeting on Thursday issued by the external affairs ministry on Friday stated that the external affairs minister “ emphasized that the two sides should work toward early resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols.
The situation in eastern Ladakh is a big challenge for India as neither the disengagement and de-escalation has taken place as it had expected after a series of round of talks with Chinese military commanders and diplomats. The standoff situation is very knotted very badly.
Jaishankar told Wang Yi that India was not interested in any clash but wants a respectable solution to the crisis in Eastern Ladakh caused by the amassing of Chinese troops and war machinery along the Line of Actual Control since April last year. The situation has seen many ups and downs and one of the worst moments was June 15/16 clashes at Galwan valley, a mountainous ridge in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed in violent clashes with Chinese troops. Till date it is not clear as to how the clashes took place and what was the provocation. There is no unanimity in the Indian and Chinese versions on the clashes. But the continuing dialogue between the two countries yielded that there has been no repeat of clashes at such a large scale since then.
Ladakh is a strategic region for India. It borders China along the LAC, and also Pakistan. It also is home to Siachen glacier which is quite often referred to as the highest battleground of the world because of its long history of gun-battles and artillery fire from 1984 to 2003. At the moment, there is an eerie calm at the glacier.
That it is border region has placed a high strategic value for the land and glaciers, the bigger threat is that Pakistan and China through their China- Pakistan Economic Corridor ( CPEC) are seeking to corrode the strategic assets of India. And the military standoff has confounded the situation. There is a further complication because the two sides despite having engaged at the military and diplomatic levels have not been able to achieve the breakthrough that they have promised to each other .
This situation has added to the uncertainties in the region. There is a massive concentration of Indian troops in response to the mobilization of the Chinese troops and war machinery at the LAC and even inside the Indian territory. This has a military cost and at the same time this adds to the anxiety of the local population.
For India, it is very important to wriggle out of the situation to end all these uncertainties and the costs that these have entailed but more importantly, it is encroaching upon lot of political, diplomatic and strategic attention of Delhi. It is, though it is not being accepted, hobbling its diplomatic outreach elsewhere. When there is a problem on the borders which draws global attention and impacts the standing of the nation of the size of India, the global image of the country is viewed differently than it would like to. Other successes by India in the field of vaccination and a relentless fight against the Covid-19 do not become source of as much inspiration as these should have in the given situation when a giant neighbour is breathing down the neck on borders and establishes its supremacy in the region.
This was evidenced in the current situation that unfolded in Afghanistan. India was not as much of a player as China. Of course, China had the support of Pakistan in establishing its contacts with the Taliban that has now taken over Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s hostility to India is eternal.
It is imperative for China and India to resolve this issue at the earliest as this is proving as an impediment to the furthering of their bilateral relations.
It was adequately understood by China too. A spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry stated: “ Wang pointed out that China and India, as two major economies, should continue to adhere to the strategic consensus that the two countries pose no threat but offer development opportunities to each other, and bring bilateral relations and practical cooperation onto the track of sound and steady development. This is not only in the common interests of the two countries but also conducive to regional and world peace and development.” This was an acknowledgment of the fact that China and India together can play a global role, but for that the mutual irritants, like the situation in eastern Ladakh needed to be removed first.
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, and The Tribune. He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with it.