New Delhi: The process of disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh is expected to be concluded in the next two to three days, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said in Moscow Wednesday.
Addressing the Diplomatic Academy of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shringla stated that the disengagement plan is a “step in the right direction”. Both New Delhi and Beijing, he added, feel “comfortable” to discuss such matters in Russia.
“In the last few days we (India and China) have started what is called a disengagement plan. We have come to some kind of understanding with China after nine months of negotiations on a plan of disengagement that would involve frontline troops, that were in close proximity to each other, I would say, going to their permanent bases and thereby preventing any chance of any mishap or miscalculation of troops being in close proximity to each other,” Shringla said.
He added, “We do believe that in the next two or three days this process would have come to a conclusion and I think that’s a step in the right direction.”
He said it is “difficult to say” how that will go from there, but noted that India and China have had “millennia of historical and civilisational linkages through Buddhism, peaceful trade intercourse of different nature and of course, historically, ties have been there”.
“How can we take that forward is something that we have to see,” he added.
After a months-long stand-off that began last April, India and China have agreed to disengage at the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh. The disengagement process began last week.
In his address in Russia, Shringla discussed how the border tensions impacted India-China ties, even as tipped his hat to Delhi’s relationship with Moscow.
‘No normal relationship without peace’
India and China, Shringla said, share a robust business and economic relationship.
“In the last few years, trade between India and China has gone up significantly. We have $60 billion-$70 billion of trade with China. We have other exchanges, investments in each other’s countries, so on and so forth,” he added.
“But the developments last year in terms of very large number of troops were amassed on our borders, attempts at multiple transgressions along the LAC did create a situation that I suppose impacted the larger relationship,” he said.
“As we mentioned to our friends in China, that it cannot have a normal bilateral relationship if there is no peace and tranquility in our border areas. So, the relationship is definitely dependent on relations that are normal even on the border,” he added. “We cannot have loss of lives of our troops and situations of transgressions and still go about normal relationship.”
Referring to the fact that Russia also had an unsettled boundary issue with China, which dated back to the 1960s and was resolved in 2004, Shringla said, “I think the fact that we have started a disengagement plan, which is on a small part of our border, which is only eastern Ladakh and only certain sectors, but nonetheless it’s a start and we have to see how that goes from here.”
‘We are comfortable here (in Russia)’
Shringla also talked about how, while India and China did not have any bilateral track during the period of tensions, they cooperated in plurilateral and multilateral forums such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), and RIC (Russia, India and China).
“There is something to be said for exchanges of that nature that enable our countries to cooperate. Even if we may not find a bilateral track, there is a plurilateral track,” he said.
“It was in Moscow that our foreign ministers met during this crisis, during Covid times it was in Moscow that our defence ministers met.”
He was referring to the fact that, on 5 September 2020, when the tensions at LAC were at their peak, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart, State Councillor General Wei Fenghe, on the sidelines of an SCO meet.
This was followed by a meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting.
“Foreign ministers and defence ministers of India and China met in Moscow. So, I think that itself is significant. We are comfortable here (in Russia). We are among friends and when you talk about a special, privileged and strategic partnership, then we obviously have an understanding of the sensitivities and concerns that India has in the Russian foreign policy space…”
India wants Russia in Indo-Pacific
Reiterating India’s plan to have Russia come into the Indo-Pacific strategic initiative, Shringla said he discussed this matter during his ongoing visit there.
“Discussed Indo-Pacific with Russia and we certainly like to work more closely with Russia on taking forward the cooperation, along with ASEAN… To us, Indo-Pacific is the seamless interface of Indian Ocean & Pacific Ocean… We see this as a free, open and inclusive region,” he said.
However, Russia has repeatedly referred to this initiative, along with the Quad grouping, as a result of “anti-China policies”.