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India-China poles apart on LAC situation—Chinese scholar after Rajnath-Liu SCO meet in Delhi

At Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in New Delhi, China's defence minister Li Shangfu told Rajnath Singh the LAC was ‘generally stable’. Singh said the basis of bilateral ties has 'eroded'.

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India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in conversation with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu In New Delhi. A Chinese scholar’s analysis of events leading up to the Galwan Valley clash. Pakistan Army chief General Syed Asim Munir’s trip to Beijing. Chinascope looks at a tense week in India-China relations as both sides talk past each other.

China over the week

The deep mistrust between India and China was on display when Li Shangfu met with Rajnath Singh on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in New Delhi. There was no handshake or exchange of pleasantries between the two defence ministers.

While China called the LAC situation ‘generally stable’, Rajnath Singh sent a stern message to Beijing, saying the overall bilateral relations are at stake because of the tensions at the border.

“Violation of existing agreements has eroded the entire basis of bilateral relations, and disengagement at the border will logically be followed with de-escalation,” Singh said.

Instead, Li Shangfu encouraged India to take a ‘long-term view’ and ‘put the border issue at an appropriate place in bilateral relations’.

“The two sides should take a comprehensive, long-term and strategic perspective on bilateral relations and mutual development and jointly contribute to world and regional peace and stability. At present, the situation on the China-India border is generally stable. The two sides have maintained communication through military and diplomatic channels,” said Li.

The word ‘disengagement’ has slowly disappeared from China’s official statements on the border stand-off as Beijing appears to offer New Delhi to accept the ‘new normal’.

The two sides now look poles apart in their interpretation of the status in Eastern Ladakh. The divergence is likely to grow as Beijing has blamed India for violating the past agreement as the root cause of the Galwan clash.

“In China’s view, the Galwan Valley incident is the inevitable result of India’s long-term violation of the 1993, 1996, and even 2005 and 2013 agreements,” wrote Hu Shisheng, director of the South Asia Institute of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

The CICIR is a public-facing think tank of China’s foreign intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security. Hu’s statement on India-China relations merits attention as Beijing officially makes unremarkable statements regarding the border dispute.

“If we want to talk about ‘recovery’, we must first highlight India’s continuous erosion of the ‘Line of Actual Control on November 7, 1959’ that China challenged as early as 1959 in the past 60 years. If the Indian side insists on talking about the so-called ‘restoration of the status quo’, then we must make it clear to India when the ‘status quo’ referred to here is appropriate, and it cannot be based solely on the Indian side’s timeline. Our military’s series of operations in 2020 have actually effectively curbed India’s border encroachment for more than half a century,” added Hu.

The Chinese side rarely admits that Beijing carried out a special ‘military operation’ in 2020, leading to the stand-off – Hu just did that in a lengthy post on his personal Weibo account. Hu takes a pessimistic view of India-China relations going forward.

“As a result, it will be difficult for China-India relations to get out of the sluggish state of ‘three deficiencies’, that is, lack of forward momentum, lack of normal cooperation, and lack of strategic mutual trust.”

I have summarised Hu Shisheng’s views in a Twitter thread.

We can only guess what was said during the tense meeting between the two defence ministers.

But some Indian officials have given details of the talks in an interview with The Guardian.

“The PLA officers are generally curt to us during these meetings,” an Indian official told the paper on condition of anonymity.

The difficulty of translating Chinese officials during these bilateral meetings is a well-known fact. But an official expressed frustration over not understanding the People’s Liberation Army officers as they mostly converse in Mandarin with very little English used during these meetings.

“These meetings turn frustrating for us as the Chinese officers speak mostly Mandarin, which we cannot understand. They remain very economical with English,” said an Indian official.

The Chinese state media has repeated another official position that the border dispute is a legacy issue used by outsiders to create a ‘security dilemma’ for India.

“Outsiders left behind a legacy of disputed borders, and outsiders are now using it to create greater security dilemmas for India,” said an op-ed in China Daily.

The hashtag “Li Shangfu meets Indian Defence Minister” trended on Weibo. The hashtag was viewed over 2.4 million times. Another hashtag, “China-India Defense Minister Meeting” was viewed over 1.3 million times on Weibo.

While Li Shangfu was in New Delhi for the SCO summit, Pakistan’s Army chief General Asim Munir visited Beijing, where he met with General Zhang Youxia, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

“Chinese military is willing to work with the Pakistani military to further deepen and expand practical cooperation, continuously push the mil-to-mil relationship to a higher level, and jointly safeguard the common interests of the two countries, as well as the regional peace and stability,” said General Zhang.

The diplomatic relations between India and China were also front and centre over the past week in Beijing.

India’s new ambassador to China, Pradeep Kumar Rawat, finally presented his credentials to President Xi Jinping. Though Ambassador Rawat assumed the charge as the next ambassador to the People’s Republic of China in March 2022, he couldn’t officially present his credentials to President Xi because of the Covid-related restrictions.

Even the US’s new ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, presented his credentials along with a list of other recently appointed ambassadors.

Must read this week

Why China Hasn’t Come to Russia’s Rescue – Agathe Demarais

How to Spy on China – Peter Mattis

Qinghai Official Died After Sharing Seven Bottles of Baijiu – Yang Caini

Experts this week

“In general, the US and Western countries are fighting and opposing India, and the trend of restricting and containing India has become very obvious today. The US and the West are using India to contain China, but they are also afraid that India will grow up to be the second China; India has actually been gradually tied to the chariot by the Americans, becoming a junior partner or cannon fodder for the US side, but the Indians themselves don’t know it yet,” said Liu Zongyi, Research Fellow, Shanghai Institute of International Studies, in his column for Guancha.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He is currently a MOFA Taiwan Fellow based in Taipei and tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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