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LAC disengagement a bargain Xi had to bite at. But Chinese media isn’t telling people that

As rumours about Xi's visit to Central Asia circulate, experts say that Beijing wants the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to go smoothly-hence the disengagement.

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India and China begin disengagement at Patrolling Point-15 in the Gogra-Hotsprings area. There are rumours about President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Central Asia. Chinese politician Li Zhanshu extends support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. China celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival. Chinascope brings you the latest developments in Chinese foreign affairs and society for the week that went by.

China over the week

In a surprising development, India and China have announced disengagement at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Gogra-Hotsprings area. Both nations issued a joint statement on 9 September. The process will be completed by 12 September.

The statement was first issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 8 September. The next day, a statement appeared on the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) English-language website, and nothing was seen on the Chinese version — until another day later when a similar Chinese statement was issued.

“On September 8, according to the consensus reached in the 16th round of commander-level talks between China and India, the front-line troops of the Chinese and Indian troops in Ganandaban (or Jianan Daban) began to disengage in a planned manner. This is conducive to maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” said the Chinese version of the Minister of National Defence’s statement.

China Daily’s international edition has reported the news of the engagement.

“With the disengagement, the two sides have found a way to avoid a serious confrontation in future, experts said, adding it comes ahead of an important summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,” China Daily reported.

The Chinese State media reported the official statements by the PLA and the Chinese foreign ministry in English, but there was little reporting in Chinese. The disengagement didn’t even trend on the popular Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo.

The story of disengagement briefly trended on the Chinese search engine Baidu. The search term “Foreign Ministry responds to the start of disengagement between the Chinese and Indian armies” was the 12th most viewed news trend on the search engine. The trend started after Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded to Indian journalist Ananth Krishnan’s question at the press briefing.

“According to the consensus reached in the 16th Round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting, the Chinese and Indian troops in the area of Jianan Daban began to disengage on September 8. This is the outcome of multiple rounds of talks over a period of time between the two sides’ diplomatic and military establishments at various levels. It is conducive to peace and tranquillity in the border areas” said Mao Ning in her response.

While news channels in India have called the disengagement a breakthrough, other areas where the PLA continues to be deployed are yet to disengage. There was no progress at disengagement in the still heavily contested Demchok and Depsang areas.

Many experts have said that Beijing wants the upcoming SCO in Uzbekistan to go smoothly. Hence, the disengagement in the Gogra-Hotsprings area was a bargain the Chinese political leadership had to bite at. The Print’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta discussed the disengagement in his latest CutTheClutter programme on YouTube.

So, what’s happening in Tashkent, and why is it related to the disengagement?

After the rumours about Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia died, new chatter emerged about the Chinese President making his first visit to Kazakhstan since Covid. So far, Russian news agency Interfax and the Kazakh foreign ministry have said that Xi is set to visit the capital, Nur-Sultan, on Wednesday. We have also heard that Xi will travel to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, after Kazakhstan where he will attend the SCO summit later in the week. Chinese State media is to yet confirm Xi’s itinerary to Central Asia, which isn’t odd, as visits by top leadership can be fully confirmed a day before the actual travel.

Xi’s visit to Central Asia has important implications for India-China relations with the potential for a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If Xi does travel, he is set to be face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well, a first since Russia launched the war in Ukraine. Multiple sources say that Xi will travel to Nur-Sultan and Samarkand, so it looks highly likely these trips are going ahead.

Xi’s visit will also impact China’s Covid travel restrictions because many Chinese haven’t left the mainland since the pandemic started, and the government has discouraged them from making international travel plans.

Also read: China watchers are on the rise in India—from civil servants to scholars to general public

Meanwhile, Li Zhanshu, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the third-most powerful politician in China, has completed his tour to Russia.

“We see that the United States and its NATO allies are expanding their presence near the Russian borders, seriously threatening national security and the lives of Russian citizens. We fully understand the necessity of all the measures taken by Russia aimed at protecting its key interests, we are providing our assistance,” said Li Zhanshu in Moscow.

The Chinese State media entirely ignored Li’s comments on Russia’s war in Ukraine. We have learned about Li’s remarks from the Russian State media’s press releases.

Li was in Moscow to attend the 7th Eastern Economic Forum, which was a part of his 11-day tour to Russia, Mongolia, Nepal, and South Korea. His speech in Moscow was titled ‘Advance the Process of World Multipolarization and Open a New Chapter in Regional Cooperation’.

“We firmly believe that under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and President Putin, Sino-Russian relations in the new era will continue to rise to new heights, and China and Russia will certainly be able to follow a development path that suits their own national conditions,” reported People’s Daily, quoting Xi’s remarks.

Nepali media has reported that Li may visit Kathmandu on 12 September as a part of the next leg of his tour. We have no confirmation of his plans from the Chinese State media.

Chinese politicians are travelling again after two years of no international travel because of the pandemic. That’s a sign that Xi feels confident about his power in the CCP. We have further evidence to confirm the elevation of Xi’s status ahead of the 20th Party Congress. The Politburo of CCP’s Central Committee held a meeting on 9 September to propose an amendment to the Chinese constitution that would further elevate Xi’s status by enshrining his political philosophy as a unified ideology, according to Xinhua New Agency.

On 10 September, people across the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong marked the Mid-Autumn Festival also known as the Moon Festival. A notable aspect of the festival is moon worship, which is tied to the idea of rejuvenation and family reunion. The Chinese name for India, 印度 yindu, originates from the Sanskrit name for the moon. Is China signalling a new approach towards India during this festival? We will have to wait and find out.

India isn’t yet buying these signals of reconciliation. Indian Army Chief General Manoj Pande was in Ladakh on a two-day visit to witness the Army’s Exercise Parvat Prahar and take a stalk of disengagement.

Also read: CCP sets date to ‘elect’ Xi Jinping for third term. And Chinese bloggers congratulate India

China in world news

We often hear about regional tensions between Japan and China over the PLA’s actions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. But China’s new geopolitical role in Asia has a second-order effect on the Russia-Japan territorial dispute.

“Japan will continue to monitor the movements of these ships with serious concern and will take all possible measures to conduct warning and surveillance activities in the waters surrounding Japan,” said Hirokazu Matsuno, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Japan has protested Russian military exercises in two of the four disputed islands in the Kuril chain north of the Tokyo-controlled northernmost island of Hokkaido. On Saturday, six Russian and Chinese ships were spotted firing machine guns into the Sea of Japan in a location about 190 kilometres west of Cape Kamui on Hokkaido

Meanwhile, Japan and the United States are planning to host a summit between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Joe Biden in New York around 20 September to discuss the security situation in East Asia. The summit will have a heavy focus on China, Reuters has reported.

Must read this week

China’s population is shrinking while India’s is growing, but both economies face demographic woesKavitha Yarlagadda

Beijing’s Global Media Influence 2022Freedom House

The Chinese Public Doesn’t Know What the Rules Are AnymoreHelen Gao

India in China

Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal has announced that India will opt out of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework’s (IPEF) trade component. The hashtag “India abandons participation in the Indo-Pacific Economic trade talks” trended on Sina Weibo.

Social media users and bloggers have hailed India’s decision and pointed out that the US’s strategy to contain China is ‘failing’.

“US’ ‘white wolf with empty gloves’ is frustrated: India bluntly says it is unprofitable to give up its participation in the Indo-Pacific trade negotiations. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which the United States wants to build with great fanfare, has just ended a two-day meeting in Los Angeles, but as a major Asian power of India said it had opted out of trade talks on one of the four pillars,” said a financial blogger with over one million followers.

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist, currently pursuing an MSc in international politics with a focus on China from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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