‘State of border can’t be delinked from state of relationship with China’: Jaishankar

Days ahead of an expected meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Monday that the standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) cannot be delinked from the overall bilateral relationship.

Jaishankar, who is set to meet Wang on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow on September 10, said the failure to observe several understandings on border management dating back to 1993 raises “very important questions” about the status of ties with China.

“If peace and tranquillity on the border is not a given, then it cannot be that the rest of the relationship continues on the same basis, because clearly peace and tranquillity is the basis for the relationship,” he said while participating in an online interaction organised by The Indian Express newspaper to mark the release of his book ‘The India Way’.

Jaishankar declined to go into details of exactly what he would discuss with his Chinese counterpart but said his position would be built around certain broad principles, including how peace and tranquillity on the border over the past 30 years had allowed the rest of the relationship to progress. During this period, China had emerged as India’s second largest trade partner despite the existence of some differences and problems, he noted.

He emphasised that “the state of the border cannot be delinked from the state of the relationship”, and the standoff had brought into focus a number of understandings with China on border management which go back to 1993, he said. These understandings stipulate that both countries will keep forces at a minimum level at the border and also shape the behaviour of the troops and restraints on them, he added.

“If these [understandings] are not observed, then it raises very, very important questions,” Jaishankar said. The “very serious situation” at the LAC since the beginning of May calls for “very deep conversations between the two sides at a political level”, he added.

Jaishankar will meet Wang less than a week after a meeting between the defence ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the SCO defence ministers’ meet in Moscow. That meeting was unable to take the troubled disengagement process forward, and several rounds of political and diplomatic talks too haven’t produced results.

Acknowledging the existing problems, competition and “difficult recent history” between India and China, Jaishankar dismissed the contention that New Delhi had misread Beijing’s intentions. He pointed to the two informal summits that were held after an understanding was reached in June 2017 and said these meetings had focused on issues of sovereignty, security, connectivity and economy after the leaders felt the need to engage directly.

These conversations had also focused on “how to find accommodation”, he said.

Jaishankar also acknowledged that both sides will now maintain their positions and the key issue is to reach an understanding on disengagement. “I have a very practical issue right now, which is an issue of disengagement and de-escalation,” he said.

He said he had left the issue of the future relationship with China open-ended in his book. “India and China must try to find mutual accommodation because their ability to do that will determine [whether this is an] Asian century or not,” he said.

Jaishankar also spoke on other issues such as Brexit, the Covid-19 crisis and the stalled relationship with Pakistan, saying this wasn’t a question of “zero diplomacy”. Given Pakistan’s “attachment to cross-border terrorism”, it would be wrong for New Delhi to allow Islamabad to set the agenda and pace for talks, he said.

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