Signalling movement in efforts to resolve the military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke to each other Sunday and “agreed” it was “necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of troops along the LAC” and “de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity”.
Doval and Wang are Special Representatives for the boundary talks, and have met in 2018 and 2019. The decision to activate the NSA-led SR mechanism was taken because South Block felt that Wang needs to be reached out at a higher level than before — from the Chinese perspective.
The last publicly announced conversation between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Wang on June 17 was frosty in nature – it was two days after the June 15 incident in Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in clashes with Chinese troops.
In its statement Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs said Doval and Wang “agreed” that both sides “should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously”.
Keeping the Galwan Valley incident in mind, the MEA statement underlined that the two sides “should also ensure a phased and stepwise de-escalation”. It said they “re-affirmed that both sides should strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control” and “should not take any unilateral action to alter the status quo” and “work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in border areas”.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, in its statement, said both sides “welcomed the progress” achieved in the recent military and diplomatic meetings, agreed to stay in dialogue and consultation, and stressed the importance to promptly act on the consensus reached in the commander-level talks between Chinese and Indian border troops, and “complete disengagement of the front-line troops as soon as possible”.
But on Galwan Valley, Beijing did some hard-talk in its statement: “The right and wrong of what recently happened at the Galwan Valley in the western sector of the China-India boundary is very clear. China will continue firmly safeguarding our territorial sovereignty as well as peace and tranquility in the border areas.” It did not, however, repeat its claim of sovereignty over the Galwan Valley.
The Indian readout did not counter this part of the Chinese statement – this is being read perhaps as a conciliatory space yielded to Beijing.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said both sides “agreed” to strengthen communication through the mechanism of the SRs, hold meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs without interruption, consistently improve and strengthen confidence-building measures and “prevent more incidents that undermine peace and tranquility in the border areas”. This was again a clear reference to the Galwan clash.
The MEA statement also said they “agreed” that the two “Special Representatives will continue their conversations” to “ensure full and enduring restoration of peace and tranquillity” in the India-China border areas in accordance with the bilateral agreements and protocols. This means that more meetings are likely to take place between Doval and Wang to ensure the restoration of status quo ante – the return of troops to locations in April this year.
Statements of both sides had a common line: to “not allow differences to become disputes”. This is a mantra of sorts, first formulated in June 2017 when President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in Astana, and reiterated in Xiamen in September 2017 after the end of the Doklam standoff.
Both statements also invoked the understanding between Modi and Xi at the Wuhan and Mahabalipuram informal summits on maintaining peace and tranquility. The MEA referred to “guidance from the consensus of the leaders” and the Chinese Foreign Ministry to the “important consensus reached by leaders” of the two countries.
The Chinese statement said Wang noted that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and India. “Our bilateral relations have withstood tests and made hard-won progress,” it said.
And in a clear reference to the recent retaliatory steps taken by the Indian government — from banning Chinese mobile apps to keeping Chinese companies out of the roads and power sectors – Beijing said: “As Wang Yi stressed, for both China and India, achieving development and revitalization is the top priority where we share long-term strategic interests. Both sides should adhere to the strategic assessment that instead of posing threats, the two countries provide each other with development opportunities. Both sides should pay great attention to the current complex situation facing China-India bilateral relations, and work together to overcome and turn it around as soon as possible.”
“We hope India can work with China to guide public opinion in the right direction, keep and advance bilateral exchanges and cooperation, and avoid amplifying the differences and complicating matters so as to jointly uphold the big picture of China-India relations,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
On Monday evening, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told a virtual conference: “The increase in tensions in different parts of the world, including on the Line of Actual Control between India and China, have only emphasised the criticality of continued communication.”
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