On the day Beijing struck a conciliatory tone with Delhi over tensions along the Line of Actual Control saying the “border area situation is overall stable and controllable”, US President Donald Trump gave it a new dimension by wading in with an offer to mediate between the two countries.
There was no immediate response from the Ministry of External Affairs. In the past, the US President has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, but this is the first time that he has made such an offer to India and China, referring to the LAC situation as a “raging border dispute”.
On July 22 last year, Trump mentioned for the first time his willingness to “help” and “mediate” between India and Pakistan over Kashmir — an offer that was rejected by the Ministry of External Affairs which reiterated New Delhi’s stated position that the issue can only be discussed bilaterally.
Since then, Trump has repeated the offer, with a “if both sides want” rider, about half-a-dozen times, and has been politely told no each time — once even by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz in France last August.
Trump’s comments on the Sino-Indian border tension comes amid a bruising war of words between US and China in the last few weeks — as the US goes into elections later this year.
US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo fired the latest salvo on the issue Wednesday when he said Hong Kong is no longer politically autonomous from China — a statement that is going to spark a fresh diplomatic duel between Washington and Beijing.
“Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997,” Pompeo said in a statement. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.”
Over the last couple of months, US and China have duelled over the origins of the coronavirus. Pompeo has repeatedly claimed that “enormous evidence” shows the virus emanated from a laboratory in Wuhan, and that Beijing refused to give access to international scientists to find out what happened.
Last Sunday, Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi said China and the US could do without a new Cold War even as he blamed “a political virus” in Washington for the worsening ties.
Trump’s latest intervention comes at a time when Delhi and Beijing are turning to military and diplomatic channels to resolve the situation.
Earlier in the day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, during a media briefing in Beijing, said China’s position on border-related issues is clear and consistent.
“We have been following the important consensus reached by the two leaders and strictly observing the agreements between the two countries,” he said, referring to directions of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi after their two informal summits, asking their militaries to take more confidence building measures to maintain peace and tranquillity along the borders.
Zhao said: “We are committed to safeguarding our territorial sovereignty and security, and safeguarding peace and stability in the border areas. Now the China-India border area situation is overall stable and controllable”.
“Between the two countries, we have good border related mechanism and communication channels. We are capable of resolving the issues properly though dialogue and consultation,” he said, confirming reports that diplomatic efforts were on to ease the border tensions.
Asked where the talks are taking place, Zhao said the two countries have established border-related mechanisms and diplomatic channels. This includes communication between border troops and diplomatic missions, he said.
In New Delhi, Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong too said: “We should never allow our differences to shadow the overall development of our relations.”
Stressing that India and China don’t pose any threat to each other, he said, “We should gradually seek understanding through communication and constantly resolve differences… and India should be good neighbours of harmonious co-existence and good partners to move forward hand in hand.”
As reported by The Indian Express, India and China are learnt to have activated the “working mechanism” at the diplomatic level – it was established during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tenure in 2012 and was signed by then Indian ambassador to Beijing, S Jaishankar, now External Affairs Minister.
This mechanism has been activated, alongside the military-to-military conversation taking place at the field level, to “dis-engage” and “de-escalate” the situation.
In the ‘Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC)’, Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs, leads the Indian side. The Chinese are led by Hong Liang, Director General, Department of Boundary and Oceanic Affairs, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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