New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said Thursday China’s “duality of cooperation and competition” was clearly evident much before the standoff started at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh — pointing to facts like Beijing issuing stapled visas and opposing India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as well as the permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
But he also highlighted eight broad propositions to try and stabilise the two countries’ relationship, saying the choices made today can have “profound repercussions”, not only for India and China, but for the world as a whole.
Jaishankar was delivering the keynote address at the 13th All India Conference of China Studies (AICC), organised jointly by the Institute of Chinese Studies and IIT Madras’ China Studies Centre.
“Even before 2020, the India-China relationship witnessed decisions and events that reflected the duality of cooperation and competition… You may recall the practice of stapled visas; or the reluctance to deal with some of our military commands. Then there was China’s opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. When it came to trade, promises of market access did not match delivery,” Jaishankar said.
He also highlighted how China’s repeated blocking of the UN listing of Pakistani terrorists involved in attacks on India had its “own resonance”.
On LAC tensions since last May, Jaishankar said they had “profoundly disturbed” the bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Beijing.
“…because they not only signalled a disregard for commitments about minimising troop levels, but also showed a willingness to breach peace and tranquillity. Especially to an audience like yours that is so focussed on China, I don’t really have to remind you what impact this has had on both public and political opinion in our country,” the minister said to the gathered diplomats, academicians and scholars.
He highlighted that despite a series of discussions between both countries at the military as well as diplomatic levels to defuse the ongoing tensions, India is still waiting to “receive a credible explanation for the change in China’s stance or reasons for massing of troops in the border areas”.
“It is a different matter that our own forces have responded appropriately and held their own in very challenging circumstances. The issue before us is what the Chinese posture signals, how it evolves, and what implications it may have for the future of our ties,” he said.
Jaishankar also underlined how China has violated Indian sovereignty by going ahead with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.
8 broad propositions
According to the external affairs minister, New Delhi and Beijing can still strive to stabilise their relationship if they follow eight aspects of their ties, like they did in the past.
The first and most important of these, he said, is to adhere to the agreements and understandings reached between them in both “letter and spirit”.
The second is handling the border areas that have been an issue between the countries. Jaishankar underlined: “The LAC must be strictly observed and respected; any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo is completely unacceptable.”
Next, he said, peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the basis for development of relations in other domains. “If they are disturbed, so inevitably will the rest of the relationship. This is quite apart from the issue of progress in the boundary negotiations,” he said.
The former foreign secretary’s fourth point was that while both nations are committed to a multi-polar world, there should be a recognition that a multi-polar Asia is one of its essential constituents.
The fifth point he made was that while each state has its own interests, concerns and priorities, sensitivity to them cannot be one-sided. “At the end of the day, relationships between major states are reciprocal in nature,” Jaishankar pointed out.
Sixth, he said as rising powers, each will have their own set of aspirations and their pursuit too cannot be ignored.
Seventh, there will always be divergences and differences but their management is essential to our ties, said the minister.
And eighth, “civilisational states like India and China must always take the long view”.
Choices today can have repercussions for the world
In a significant statement, Jaishankar also spoke of the careful “choices” India and China will have to make, in order to avoid “profound repercussions” for the entire world.
“It has often been said that the ability of India and China to work together will determine the Asian century. At this time, it is equally important to recognise that their difficulties in doing so may well undermine it. The India-China relationship is today truly at a crossroads. Choices that are made will have profound repercussions, not just for the two nations but for the entire world,” he said. “Respecting the three mutuals (respect, sensitivity and interests) and observing those eight principles that I spoke about will surely help us make the right decisions.”
Jaishankar recounted how, after the 1962 War, India took “painstaking and arduous” efforts to normalise ties with China by exchanging ambassadors in 1976, followed by a prime ministerial visit to China by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988.
“In the years that passed, we obviously did not see significant progress on arriving at a common understanding of the alignment of the LAC in the India-China border areas. But, at the same time, there was also increasing construction of border infrastructure, especially on the Chinese side,” Jaishankar said.
“Since 2014, there may have been more efforts by India to reduce this very considerable gap, including greater budget commitments and a better road-building record. Nevertheless, the infrastructure differential remains significant and, as we saw last year, consequential,” he pointed out.
He also alluded to the Galwan Valley clash in June last year, when 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives, saying it “signalled a disregard for commitments about minimising troop levels, but also showed a willingness to breach peace and tranquillity”.
ThePrint was a digital partner for the ICS conference.