A COMPARISON of two phone conversations between India and China 18 days apart — June 17 and July 5 — shows a sharp dialling down of rhetoric on the border dispute.
The first call, two days after the Galwan Valley clash on June 15, between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was frosty. However, on July 5, the conversation between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and State Councillor Wang (his counterpart as Special Representative for the boundary talks) was conciliatory, both in tone and tenor.
A breakdown of four statements, two each from India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Chinese Foreign Ministry, reflecting the progress, as well as the challenges ahead, on issues.
Last month, New Delhi was direct in saying that the Chinese side took “planned action” and held them as “directly responsible”. But, this time, there was no mention of the incident in graphic detail.
June 17: Jaishankar conveyed the protest in the strongest terms on the violent face-off in Galwan Valley. Recalled that at the meeting of senior Military Commanders held on June 6, an agreement was reached on de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC.
Ground commanders were meeting regularly to implement this consensus throughout the last week. While there was some progress, the Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC. While this became a source of dispute, the Chinese side took pre-meditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties. It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo.
July 5: The two Special Representatives had a frank and in-depth exchange of views on the recent developments in the Western Sector of the India-China border areas.
Impact on bilateral ties
New Delhi had last month warned about consequences of China’s actions and how they must correct themselves. But this time, the Indian side invoked the leaders’ consensus and how they should not let differences become disputes — a mantra espoused since June 2017 in Astana and reiterated many times since then.
June 17: Jaishankar underlined that this “unprecedented” development will have a “serious impact” on the bilateral relationship. The need of the hour was for the Chinese side to “reassess its actions” and take “corrective steps”. The two sides should scrupulously and sincerely implement the understanding that was reached by the Senior Commanders on 6th June. Troops of both sides should also abide by the bilateral agreements and protocols. They should strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control and should not take any unilateral action to alter it.
July 5: The two SRs agreed that both sides should take guidance from the consensus of the leaders that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas was essential for the further development of our bilateral relations and that two sides should not allow differences to become disputes.
Way forward: a window
Delhi had left a window open last month by asking that either side not escalate and ensure peace. This time, they spelt out fast disengagement at the earliest and do it in a phased, stepwise manner. They also agreed to be in touch to enforce them.
June 17: At the conclusion of the discussion, it was agreed that the overall situation would be handled in a “responsible manner”, and both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of 6 June sincerely. Neither side would take any action to escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquillity as per bilateral agreements and protocols.
July 5: They agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity. In this regard they further agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously. The two sides should also ensure a phased and stepwise de-escalation in the India-China border areas. 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 two Special Representatives agreed that the diplomatic and military officials of the two sides should continue their discussions, including under the framework of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC), and implement the understandings reached in a timely manner to achieve the above outcomes. It was also 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.
Incident report: With the tension running high, Beijing had recounted its version of the Galwan clash back in June. But, this time there was no mention, signalling lowering of temperature.
June 17: Wang Yi noted that on the evening of 15 June, the Indian frontline border forces openly broke the consensus reached at the commander-level meeting between the two sides. When the situation in the Galwan Valley had deescalated, the Indian forces crossed the Line of Actual Control again, made deliberate provocations and even violently attacked the Chinese soldiers who went for negotiations. This subsequently led to fierce physical clashes and resulted in casualties. The adventurism of the Indian army seriously violated agreements on border issues between the two countries and severely violated basic norms governing international relations. China once again lodges its strong protest to the Indian side. We urge the Indian side to conduct a thorough investigation, hold the violators accountable, strictly discipline the frontline troops and immediately stop all provocative acts to ensure such incidents will not occur again. The Indian side must not misjudge the current situation and must not underestimate China’s firm determination to safeguard our territorial sovereignty.
July 5: No mention. Both sides had candid and in-depth discussions over easing the current border situation and reached positive common understandings.
Beijing had then talked about suspicion and friction as a “wrong path”. Now, while it has raised the issue of Galwan — it has refrained from claiming sovereignty over the valley.
June 17: Wang Yi stressed that China and India are both emerging powers with more than one billion people, and both have the historic mission to speed up the realization of our own development and revitalization. Therefore, mutual respect and support is a sure way and meets the long-term interests of both countries; suspicion and friction is a wrong path and goes against the fundamental aspiration of the two peoples.
July 5: Wang Yi 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. 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. 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.
* Leaders’ consensus
Beijing has invoked the consensus between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping both times. But this time it spelt out that differences should not becomes disputes, as was formulated in 2017.
June 17: Both sides should act on the important consensus reached by the two state leaders, strengthen communication and coordination to properly address the border situation through existing channels, including the China-India Special Representatives’ Meeting and border personnel meeting mechanism, so as to jointly preserve peace and tranquility in the border area.
July 5: First, both sides agreed to follow the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries. Both believed that maintaining peace and tranquility in the border areas matters significantly to the long-term development of bilateral relationship, that the boundary question should be placed properly in the bilateral relations, and that an escalation from differences to disputes should be avoided.
Second, both sides reiterated adherence to the agreements signed by the two countries and making joint efforts to ease the situation in the border areas.
* Way forward: Last month, Beijing had left the door ajar, but this time — it talked about the “progress” made in the recent dialogues and stressed on the complete disengagement.
June 17: The two sides agreed to fairly address the serious situation caused by the conflict in the Galwan Valley, jointly observe the consensus reached at the commander-level meeting between the two sides, cool down the situation on the ground as soon as possible, and maintain peace and tranquility in the border area in accordance with the agreements already reached between the two countries.
July 5: Both sides agreed to strengthen communication through the mechanism of the Special Representatives’ Meeting, 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.
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.
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