New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi this week to try and reduce military tensions between the neighbours in Ladakh, but few in New Delhi are expecting a breakthrough.
Jaishankar’s meeting with Wang could also go the same way as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe in Moscow last week, where Beijing blamed New Delhi for the tensions, diplomatic sources and analysts said.
However, it is important for India to remain engaged with China and keep talking while the Indian Army should continue preparing to spend the winter on the icy Himalayan heights, they said.
The Jaishankar-Wang meeting in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers’ meeting on 10 September will be their first face-to-face talks this year.
The ministers have spoken twice since the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh began in May, with the second conversation taking place immediately after the Galwan Valley clash on 15 June in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
Their meeting assumes added significance as Beijing accused the Indian Army of entering Chinese territory at Pangong Tso and firing warning shots at its troops on Monday, the eve of Jaishankar’s departure for Moscow.
What Jaishankar is likely to say
Jaishankar is expected to once again assert India’s position on China violating the agreements on maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border areas, and restoration of the status quo ante. However, Indian diplomatic sources said just like the defence ministers’ meeting, the Jaishankar-Wang meeting may also end in stalemate, and the situation could remain “fluid”.
India and China are gearing up for the winter with heavy troop deployment and logistics planning in areas like Chushul, Depsang and Pangong Tso even as they try and find a breakthrough, the sources said, adding that it will cost both countries a lot of money.
“For the Chinese now, the restoration of status quo ante would mean a loss of face, so they will have to find some way out of that. For them to stay there in the winter means a huge cost in terms of troops and logistics,” said an official.
According to a source, it’s a “positive sign” that the Chinese are engaged in a dialogue process both at the military as well as diplomatic levels, despite a breakthrough proving to be elusive.
“Localised skirmishes will continue, and may happen in the winters too… This might well be part of a larger Chinese plan to impose a certain cost on India. But this is a cost to them as well,” said the second source, adding that the Indian Army is acclimatised to the region, unlike the soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Engage the Chinese Communist Party
Lt Gen. Rakesh Sharma (retd), former corps commander of the 14 Corps in Ladakh, told ThePrint that India needs to now engage in talks with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its various organs like the Central Military Commission to achieve a breakthrough.
“The real decision-making power does not lie with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the CCP and the Politburo. We have to also get on to discussing issues with the International Liaison Department (ILD) of the CCP,” Sharma said. The ILD is an intelligence agency under the central committee of the CCP.
The source cited above also said it has not been easy for the Indian diplomats to access the CCP. Last month, Vikram Misri, Indian Ambassador to China, did meet officials from the Chinese Military Commission and Central Foreign Affairs Commission that are basically various arms of the CCP.
“It is good to keep the CCP engaged, but real negotiations can only happen through diplomatic channels. That has always been the case whenever serious border stand-offs have taken place, be it 2013, 2014 or 2017,” said Ashok K. Kantha, director of the Institute of Chinese Studies.
Kantha, former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and Indian ambassador to China, added: “The meeting between the foreign ministers in person is important and maybe we will see some progress happening after that. The Chinese are well aware of our main demands — restoration of status quo ante and resumption of patrolling activities, especially in the Depsang Plains. But we need to be patient. Engagement is important.”
Last week, during a discussion on his new book The India Way: Strategies For An Uncertain World, Jaishankar said he has known Wang “for a long time” and that the solution to the present LAC situation “has to be found in the domain of the diplomacy”.
“This is all part of the Chinese game plan. They think they can continue with their military aggression at the borders, while everything else will be the same. But India has already made it clear it won’t be accepted at any cost. There has to be peace and tranquillity and restoration of the status quo to have normal bilateral ties,” said Gautam Bambawale, former Indian envoy to Pakistan and China.
“We have opened all channels of communication, be it their Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Defence or committees of the Chinese Communist Party. During the upcoming meeting of the foreign ministers, we have to think and understand what they are thinking.”
Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla had said last Friday that the present stand-off is as serious a situation as 1962, when India and China had fought a war, and that it cannot be business as usual with Beijing unless it is resolved.
Quad meet, 2+2 dialogue in October
Meanwhile, India is all set to host the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Quad — a grouping of the US, India, Australia and Japan — in October. In the same month, India and the US are likely to hold the ‘2+2’ format dialogue between their foreign and defence ministers.
Ever since the India-China stand-off began in May, US President Donald Trump has offered to mediate between New Delhi and Beijing several times.
Last week, Trump called the present situation “very nasty” and that the US would “love to get involved and help”.