US President Donald Trump Wednesday offered to mediate between India and China over the “raging border dispute“. This came on a day when China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the border situation was “overall stable and controllable”. Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong said that the neighbours pose no threat to each other. Trump has in the past also offered to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
ThePrint asks: Does Trump help or harm India’s interests when he offers to mediate with China, Pakistan?
If Trump’s activism prompts China to avoid further international focus, then India can benefit too
Former Indian ambassador to the US
Trump will be Trump. He is playing to his base, trying to project that he is active and potentially influential on international issues. The President wants to negate the assessment among countries that he has damaged relations with US allies and reduced its global salience.
The offer to assist or mediate on India-Pakistan issues, if both countries agree, has been a standard template for US administrations for several decades now. Bill Clinton had suggested and so did Obama, who in an interview in October 2008, before his election, had contemplated appointing a special envoy.
While no doubt an irritant, India has easily finessed this by stating that it abides only by a bilateral process, embodied in the Simla Agreement of 1972. But, the offer on the LAC tension with China is new. India has assessed that firmness and determination on ground, combined with a bilateral approach works best. It also signals to China that India has autonomy and strength in its decisions, and is not influenced by third countries. Also, China will not accept US mediation, given the “great power competition” that they are engaged in.
However, if the US activism prompts China to avoid further international focus on its actions—seen by many as a part of its coercive attempts in its neighbourhood, including in the East and South China Sea—then it could be a collateral benefit.
India should ignore Trump’s comment and stand by its stance on bilateral engagement.
Trump’s offer conveys US’ neutrality on the issue, implying he does not support India’s position
Executive council member, VIF, and former foreign secretary
US President Donald Trump’s tweets are ill-thought out, impulsive and ill-advised. Being often contradictory, they cause confusion. As president of the most powerful country what he says is intrinsically important as an indication of the US thinking on sensitive issues. Which is why these tweets should not be made lightly.
The best is not to treat these tweets seriously and ignore them. If taken on their face value, they gratuitously erode India-US trust. By offering personal arbitration in the current India-China stand-off, Trump is not only over-ruling US top diplomat Alice Wells’ views, but he is conveying US neutrality on the subject, implying that he does not support India’s position. An arbitrator must have the confidence of both sides to a dispute, which, in the current state of US-China ties, is being delusional. If he is neutral on issues of India’s security on land, then what is the value of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad for India? Why should India support US interests there?
In the case of Kashmir too, Trump has ignored India’s well-established position that the issue has to be resolved in a bilateral framework and that no third party has a role to play.
Trump not a credible negotiator. India must stick to bilateral approach in solving issues with China
Former Indian ambassador to the US
US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate is not helpful because it goes against India’s stated position of solving such issues bilaterally. This is the principle we have applied to for any disputes we have with our neighbours in South Asia, and China is no exception.
Also, Trump is not a credible negotiator. We value our strategic partnership with the US, but Trump’s personal diplomacy is not known to be very helpful.
And Trump is unlikely to have studied the intricacies of India’s boundary issue with China or what the recent rise in tensions signify. Just a statement saying that he is ready to mediate between the two countries is not of much interest to India, especially since Trump has a history of making such off-hand remarks. He has done this in the past when he said he would act as a mediator between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, and I think India very discreetly discouraged him from pursuing that.
With regard to his previous mediation offer to India and Pakistan, I don’t think any formal communication took place from either through the US State Department or the President’s office. I do recall the official spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs pointedly saying India doesn’t accept third-party mediation in such matters. I don’t believe the government of India is going to respond any differently this time.
India and US to gain if they work together to resist Beijing’s coercive approach to border disputes
Head of Research, The Takshashila Institution
US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate is a needless distraction in the grand scheme of things.
Assessing what the US foreign policy would be like based on Trump’s offer to mediate on Twitter is a risky exercise. Often, there is a considerable gap between the two, like in the case of Afghanistan.
Officially, the White House released a report on 20 May that said in no uncertain terms that Beijing “flouts its commitments to its neighbours by engaging in provocative and coercive military and paramilitary activities in the Yellow Sea, the East and South China Seas, the Taiwan Strait, and Sino-Indian border areas.” We can only guess whether Trump’s latest offer to mediate follows as a result of this understanding.
Nevertheless, India’s position on such offers has been consistent — it intends to solve such disputes bilaterally and not through third party mediation. China is not likely to accept any such offers of mediation either. Hence, it would help the Indian and American interests both, a lot more if the US and India work together to build capacity to resist Beijing’s coercive and arrogant approach to border disputes.
The case with Pakistan is also similar. The border dispute there is just one issue in a consistently strained India-Pakistan relationship. In fact, the US support to the Pakistani military-jihadi complex over the years has made this problem even more difficult. Here again, it would help the Indian and the US interests a lot more if the US adopts an overall strategic stance that sees Pakistan as a part of the problem.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint