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Trump says he spoke to Modi about China; no recent contact: Indian officials

On Friday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told US Defence Secretary Mark T Esper that New Delhi would resolve its differences with Beijing bilaterally.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
May 30, 2020 4:33:24 am
India China border dispute, India China border, India China dispute, Donald Trump on India China dispute, India news, Indian Express ‘Modi not in good mood on China’

Hours after United States President Donald Trump claimed that he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the situation on the India-China border, sources in New Delhi said there has been “no recent contact” between the two leaders, who had last spoken almost two months ago, on April 4.

On Friday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told US Defence Secretary Mark T Esper that New Delhi would resolve its differences with Beijing bilaterally.

Just before 2 am on Friday India time, Trump, who was responding to questions at the White House, claimed he had spoken to Modi, who, he said, was “not in a good mood about what’s going on with China”.

“They have a big conflict going with India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people [each]. Two countries with very powerful militaries. And India is not happy, and probably China is not happy. But I can tell you, I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He’s not — he’s not in a good mood about what’s going on with China,” Trump said.

Around 9 am IST, sources in New Delhi rebutted the claim about the conversation. “There has been no recent contact between PM Modi and President Trump. The last conversation between them was on 4 April on the subject of hydroxychloroquine,” a source said.

Officials said that they had been surprised by the US President’s claim, but since there was video evidence of his comments, it did not take long for them to reject the claim.

“We took the decision as soon as all the key players in the government were available for consultation in the morning,” a source said.

This is not the first time that Trump has falsely claimed to have had a conversation with PM Modi.

On July 22 last year, he had said that Modi had asked him to mediate on Jammu and Kashmir. The MEA spokesperson had denied the claim within a couple of hours, saying “no such request” had been made.

The difference in New Delhi’s response this time is that the government has not denied Trump’s claim through an official spokesperson.

The global dynamics at play between the US and China, and the fact that Washington’s support – in terms of access to ventilators and vaccines among other things – could be key in India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, could have been on the minds of government officials.

“A decision to publicly rebut the US President is not taken lightly,” a source told The Indian Express. A “considered” decision was taken to deny the claim “off the record”, the source said.

Trump, who was also asked about his offer to mediate between India and China, said, “I would do that. You know, I would do that. If they — if they thought it would help if I were the mediator or the arbiter, I would do that. So, we’ll see.”

In response, sources in New Delhi said, “Yesterday, the Ministry of External Affairs had also made it clear that we are directly in touch with the Chinese through established mechanisms and diplomatic contacts.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s telephonic conversation with the US Defence Secretary on Friday lasted close to 30 minutes, sources said.

“China figured in the discussion, and the Defence Minister told Esper that India would like to resolve the differences with China through existing bilateral mechanisms,” a source said.

In its official statement, the Defence Ministry said the two ministers “exchanged views on regional developments of shared security interest”. The conversation was requested by Esper, the statement said.

With Indian and Chinese troops facing off at multiple points in eastern Ladakh for over three weeks now, this is the first dialogue on the issue between the two leaders.

Trump had waded into the tensions on the Line of Actual Control on Wednesday, and on Thursday, India had said that it was engaged with Beijing to “peacefully resolve” the issue.

“We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!” Trump had posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

The following day, the MEA’s official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said, “We are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve this issue.” He did not refer to Trump’s tweet in his response.

On Friday, China too, turned down the US’s mediation offer. Spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, said: “We do not need the intervention of the third party”.

Zhao told journalists in Beijing: “Between China and India, we have existing border-related mechanisms and communication channels… we are capable of properly resolving the issues between us through dialogue and consultation.”

Despite India’s rejection of his July 22, 2019 offer to mediate on Kashmir, Trump had persisted – repeating the offer, with a “if both sides want” rider, about half a dozen times.

He has been politely refused each time — once by Prime Minister Modi personally on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz in France last August.

Trump on Friday also said that he “liked” Modi. “I like Modi. I like your prime minister a lot. He’s a great gentleman. A great gentleman,” he said, while responding to questions from the PTI correspondent in Washington.

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