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India-China normalisation of ties still distant: Beijing, Delhi differ on approach

Indian sources were quoted as saying that Wang invited Doval to visit China for talks of Special Representatives (SRs) on the broader resolution of the India-China boundary, but the latter said that he could visit only “after immediate issues are resolved successfully”

Mar 25, 2022
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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held daylong meetings with top Indian officials in New Delhi

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held daylong meetings with top Indian officials in New Delhi in what was seen as a fence-mending visit after their armies had a bloody border clash two years ago that soured ties, but the talks did not produce the usual joint statement that showed that normalisation of ties have still a long way to go. 

“If you ask me, is our relationship normal today, my answer to you is no it is not, and it cannot be normal if the situation in the border areas is abnormal. Surely the presence of a large number of troops there, in contravention of agreements, is abnormal,” Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in response to a question at a press conference after this three-hour meeting with Wang and his delegation. 

Wang, who arrived on Thursday from Islamabad and Kabul, and met India's National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval for an hour in the morning, held bilateral talks with Jaishankar before leaving for Kathmandu. According to  Jaishankar, who briefed the media himself, their meeting had a “broad and substantive agenda” and talks were “open and candid”.

This was the major visit of a senior Chinese leader to India in over two years and took place at the former's request. 

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Wang proposed reviving the “India-China plus” initiative for projects in South Asia, an outcome of the Wuhan meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in 2018. It stated that China did not seek a “unipolar asia” and “respects India’s traditional role in the region”, during his talks in Delhi, The Hindu said. 

In a departure from the past, when India had refused to hold bilateral talks on any issue other than the boundary stand-off triggered by what New Delhi says was PLA (People’s Liberation Army) troops amassing and transgressing areas along the Line of Actual Control since April 2020, talks between Wang and Jaishankar, as well as separately with Doval, took in a number of other issues, including trade and commerce, visas for Indian students as well as international and regional developments. However, the government said the focus was on the situation in the border areas and bilateral relations that had been "disturbed by Chinese actions since April 2020".

 This was in reference to large parts of the LAC in eastern Ladakh, where about 100,000 Indian and Chinese soldiers are ranged against each other, after the PLA, according to Jaishankar, violated previous border agreements from 1993-1996 on maintaining the status quo.

While 15 rounds of commander-level talks and eight rounds of Working Mechanism Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) have yielded “considerable progress”,  Jaishankar said, several friction areas remained, but didn’t outline specifics. He also did not respond to a question on whether India had spoken of the need to return to the “status quo ante” as of April 2020.

Indian sources were quoted as saying that Wang invited Doval to visit China for talks of Special Representatives (SRs) on the broader resolution of the India-China boundary, but the latter said that he could visit only “after immediate issues are resolved successfully”. 
The NSA’s office did not make a statement on the Wang-Doval talks but the same sources were quoted as saying that Doval stressed that the restoration of peace in border areas would create the “enabling environment” for progress in ties and was a "prerequisite for normalisation".

   Doval told Wang that the "continuation of the present situation" was not in mutual interest and that restoring peace and tranquillity would help build mutual trust and create and enabling environment for progress in relations, NDTV said quoting unidentified official sources.  

However, a Chinese statement said that Wang advocated “putting the differences on the border issue in the proper place in bilateral relations”, and pursuing instead more cooperation and mutual development in each other’s countries.

“If China and India speak with one voice the world will listen. If China and India work together, the whole world will pay attention,” Wang said, according to the statement in Chinese official media. 

Jaishankar said the two sides also discussed the situation in Ukraine, and shared common “elements” on the importance of an immediate ceasefire and a return to dialogue and diplomacy between Russia and Ukraine. They also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, where Wang had led a delegation to talks on Thursday. However, Jaishankar said that China had not invited India to its conference on foreign ministers of the countries neighbouring Afghanistan to be held in Beijing next week.

Referring to Wang’s comments in Islamabad on Kashmir earlier this week to which New Delhi had taken strong exception, Jaishankar said he explained why the comments made at the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad were “objectionable”, adding, in a reference to Pakistan, that he hoped China would follow an “independent policy” towards India and not allow other relationships to influence that.

When asked why Wang’s arrival in India had been cloaked in secrecy and only announced on Friday when the meetings began, Jaishankar said this was done at the request of the Chinese side, The Hindu stated.

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