A truce with difference India and China-Eternal neighbors with Ephemeral trust

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  • A truce with difference India and China-Eternal neighbors with Ephemeral trust
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By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy centre, former Director UNEP, IIT Alumnus

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The Indian media, centres of strategic studies, retired diplomats as well as so-called China-watchers had vintage time over a couple of months in airing their ‘old-wine-in-new-bottle’ views on India-China conflict in the Western Himalaya. The stand-off was filled and punctuated with the fistfights and wrestling-punching. It led to barbaric club-wars in May 2020 and later in June 2020 between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In the Galwan Valley of Ladakh, the history of India-China conflicts and wars was retold, reiterated and recounted. Galwan ( also spelled as Gallowan) valley , a theatre for India-China drama is just not valley of River Galwan, but it is a valley of mis-trust or dis-trust!

Right from the events of fleeing of Dalai Lama in 1959 from Tibet, to the latest clash, Indian audience was bombarded almost every day with raucous debates on TV and long columns in the newspapers. Freedom of expression was freely used to the fullest degree in the world’s largest and noisiest democracy to such an extent that viewers felt that they are seeing the ‘real battle’ on TV and social media among Indians as much as they were hearing about the two armies facing each other in the Galwan Valley. However, the main stream Chinese media did not give much prominence to India-china conflict. For them priority was trade-war with USA, protesters in Hongkong and situation in South China sea.

The fire was still simmering even after the visit of PM Narendra Modi to Ladakh when the major announcement was made on 6th July following 2 hours of truce-talk held on 5th July between India’s National Security Advisor Mr. Ajit Doval and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It stated that the armies have moved back by around two kilometres from the site of June 15 clashes in the Galwan valley.

While truce would help in de-escalating the situation and bringing down the tempers at least in India, the question remains as to how real and different this disengagement process will be from the first disengagement announced by two sides on 1st June 2020 and earlier in Doklam in 2017?

The clue is offered by the statement that appeared in Chinese government media on 6th July. There are three major official newspapers in China that are fully controlled by Chinese government They are People’s daily, PLA Daily and Economic Daily. These are read by most of the educated Chinese. There is fourth one, Guang Ming Daily, that predominantly contains opinions of government friendly intellectuals from the China Communist Party.

Indian media normally has access to two main English daily from China, both again controlled by the Chinese government i.e. Global Times and China Daily. They are the ‘background tunes’ of the three major Chinese newspapers indicated above.

It is important to note the detail statement that appeared on 6th June in People’s Daily in Chinese on 6th July in order to understand the extent to which the issue of ‘disengagement’ was discussed.

The Chinese statement (in English translation) appears below:

“On the evening of July 5, Wang Yi, China’s special representative on the border issue between China and India, State Councillor and foreign minister, held a telephone conversation with Indian special representative and Indian National Security Advisor Doval.

Wang Yi said that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India. China-India relations have gone through trials and tribulations, and withstood test of times. It was not easy to achieve the development that we see today in both countries.

Recently, what happened in the western section of the Sino-Indian border in the Galwan Valley is very clear. China will continue to vigorously defend its territorial sovereignty and maintain peace in the border area. Wang Yi stressed that the realization along with revitalization of development is the top priorit of China and India. On this common direction, China and India have long-term common strategic interests. The two sides should always adhere to the strategic judgment so that the situation does not pose a threat to each other and serves as opportunity for each other’s development.

The two sides attach great importance to the complicated situation faced by the current bilateral relations, and agree to work together to overcome and reverse the same as soon as possible. It is hoped that India and China will stand together, appropriately guide public opinion, maintain and promote cordial interactions and cooperation between the two countries, avoid expanding and

complicating disputes, and jointly safeguard the overall situation of China India relations.

The two sides exchanged candid and in-depth views on easing the current border situation and reached a positive consensus on following:

  • The two sides agreed to abide by the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, believing that maintaining peace and stability in the border areas is crucial to the long-term development of bilateral relations, The border issue should be placed in an appropriate position in bilateral relations, to avoid the turn of differences into disputes. ( apparent reference to informal summits between PM Narendra Modi and President Jinping Xi)
  • The two sides reiterated that they would abide by a series of agreements signed by the two countries on border issues and work together to ease the situation in the border areas.
  • The two sides agreed to strengthen communication through the special representative meeting mechanism, hold continuous meetings on China India border affairs consultation and coordination mechanism, and constantly improve and strengthen the construction of confidence building measures in the border areas, so as to avoid the recurrence of incidents affecting peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
  • The two sides welcomed the progress made in recent military and diplomatic meetings between the two countries, agreed to continue to maintain dialogue and consultation, and stressed that the consensus reached at the level of military commanders of the border defence forces of the two countries should be implemented as soon as possible so as to complete the process of disengagement of the front-line forces of both sides as soon as possible.”

The earlier statements of 1st June 2020, by Zhao Lijian , spokesmen of Chinese Foreign affairs and Anurag Srivastava spokesman of Indian Ministry of foreign affairs, were brisk without any historic references and connotations. This time there are references to ‘Development opportunities’ that both countries have, ‘long-term development of bilateral relations’ that countries should keep in mind and ‘appropriate placement of boundary issue in (overall gambit of ) bilateral relation’.

Statement this time from China-side indicated emphatic references to the ‘two leaders’ (Modi and Xi)’ talk during informal summits .

A lot seems yet to be worked out during the inclusive talks with Military Commanders, the statement points out to the conclusion that barring glitches in implementation, the withdrawal of armies would be done expeditiously.

Modi’s diplomacy worked.

There are three reasons why this time the withdrawal and disengagement would work out. Firstly, China is internationally nearly isolated and is exposed as aggressive expansionist as evident from its dealings with Hongkong, Taiwan and South China sea. Even Russia has refused to take sides in conflicts between India and China. Secondly, for China it is important to focus on resolving the issues with USA on trade and on source of new Corona virus. Thirdly, PM Modi’s ‘veiled, slow but direct diplomacy’ seems to be working. The threat through choking the investment and banning the digital apps may appear to be insignificant tactics to many economists but they are good enough considering the isolation faced by diplomatically drenched China. Election of India on 17th June, after the death of 20 India’s soldiers, on 15th June as one of the 10 non-permanent member of United Nations Security Council with overwhelming support has also rattled and embarrassed China.

PLA Daily, on 18th June had reported that ‘the Indian Army violated its promise and again crossed the actual control line for illegal activities on the evening of 15, deliberately launching provocative attacks, which triggered fierce physical conflicts between the two sides, causing casualties’. China has, since then , certainly came far from that position when one reads the statement of 6th July.

Declaration of this truce on 6th July , the 85th birthday of Dalai Lama and two days after Dharma Chakra Day tof 4th July, (which commemorates Buddha’s First sermon on ‘middle path’ and peace to his first five ascetic disciples at the Deer Park, Rasipatana in the present-day Sarnath near Varanasi- PM Modi’s election constituency- Uttar Pradesh), reminds of Buddha’s message that was carried by Indians to China across Himalaya offers yet another non-political but significant dimension of India-China relation.

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