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No return to normal for China-India ties until border row resolved, New Delhi says

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Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister, poses with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi before their meeting in New Delhi. Photo: AP

Border tensions between China and India have cast a shadow over Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi, with India saying ties cannot be normalised until their Himalayan stand-off is resolved.

But both sides have agreed on the need for a ceasefire in the war in Ukraine.

Wang’s trip is the first to the Indian capital by a high-ranking Chinese official since the border tensions erupted into violence in mid-2020, leaving 20 Indian soldiers dead. China said four of its soldiers died in the clashes.

In talks with Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval on Friday, Wang said China did not seek a “unipolar Asia” and respected India’s traditional role in the region, but India had pressed China for an early and complete disengagement of troops from their borders.

“The whole world will listen when China and India speak with one voice. The world will pay attention to the cooperation between China and India,” Wang was quoted by the Chinese foreign ministry as saying.

“The two sides should strengthen communication and coordination, support each other, release more positive signals for upholding multilateralism, and inject more positive energy into improving global governance.”

However, after a separate meeting with Wang, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said ties between the two countries had been “disturbed” and were “not normal”, adding that disengagement talks were happening at a “slower than desirable” pace.

“It cannot be normal if the situation in the border areas is abnormal,” Jaishankar said. “Surely, the presence of a large number of troops there, in contravention to agreements, is not normal.”

Jaishankar said relations were a “work-in-progress”, and Friday’s talks were aimed at “expediting” the disengagement talks between the two nations.

He said the Chinese side expressed a desire “for a return to normalcy” in the bilateral relationship, and pushed Delhi to look at the “larger significance” of their ties.

Read Also: Doval tells Wang LAC disengagement a must, could visit China after ‘immediate issues’ resolved

But India had clearly laid out its conditions for this, Jaishankar said.

“India wants a stable and predictable relationship but restoration of normalcy will require a restoration of peace and tranquility,” he said.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries have suffered in the last few years, with no talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi since May 2020.

But the two sides have agreed to continue interaction at the military and diplomatic level to try to ensure that the dispute does not escalate again, according to Indian sources.

China and India have also adopted stances on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that are at odds with those of European countries and the United States.

Like China, India remains ambiguous in its position on the invasion of Ukraine – uniquely among members of the informal “Quad” alliance that also includes the US, Australia and Japan.

Jaishankar said that the two had discussed the situation in Ukraine and shared “respective approaches” on the issue.

“We both agreed on the importance of an immediate ceasefire and a return to diplomacy,” he said.

Yogesh Gupta, a former Indian ambassador to Denmark, said Beijing would want to improve ties with New Delhi to help counter increasing pressure from Washington.

“Wang wants to explore whether India can distance itself from the US and join Russia and China in some kind of group, to divide and weaken the Quad,” Gupta said.

“That depends on what China would be required to do in terms of disengagement and withdrawal from remaining friction points [on their shared Himalayan border].”

Gupta said India made it clear that disengagement and withdrawal from remaining friction points in Ladakh and amassing of thousands of troops on the borders would rule out a return to normal relations.

“In such a situation, there cannot be any possibility of any high-level visits from India to China including for the BRICS Summit,” he said, referring to the annual meeting for leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa later this year.

But there are signs that differences between the two countries might be too much to overcome.

On Tuesday, Wang told a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad that China would continue to “support Islamic countries in using Islamic wisdom to solve contemporary hotspot issues”.

He also referred to Kashmir, which has been disputed between New Delhi and Islamabad over seven decades.

“On Kashmir, we have heard the voices of many Islamic friends again today, and China has the same desire for this,” Wang told the OIC.

But on Wednesday, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said matters related to Jammu and Kashmir were entirely the internal affairs of India.

“Other countries including China have no locus standi to comment. They should note that India refrains from public judgment of their internal issues.”

Jaishankar said the issue was discussed “at some length” in his talks with Wang on Friday.

“I referred to his statement and told him why India found it objectionable,” he said.

“I conveyed to him that China should follow an independent policy with respect to India and not allow its policies to be influenced by other countries and relationships,” Jaishankar said, in a veiled reference to Pakistan.

Wang Dehua, a regional affairs expert at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies, said Wang was merely encouraging India and Pakistan to resolve their differences by peaceful means.

“Kashmir is a region with a Muslim population – that’s why Wang Yi suggested using Islamic wisdom,” he said.

“The Kashmir problem has led to at least three massive bloody clashes between India and Pakistan. Only wisdom could solve that dispute.”