The Chinese and Indian Foreign Ministers reached a five-point agreeement in Moscow on the morning of the 11th, Beijing time. This news gave the world a temporary sigh of relief from the danger of escalating tensions on the border between the two countries. The meeting between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar was considered to be a key negotiation to resolve the deadlock they had gotten into. It was also the second time in a week that two high-level leaders from the two countries attempted untying of the knot of tensions through talks in Moscow. Both sides believe that the current situation in the border area is not in the interest of China and India, and, agreeing to the armed forces of the two sides “disengaging as soon as possible”, for the first time proposed that “new confidence building measures should be worked upon quickly”.
The outcome of the China-India Foreign Ministers’ talks surprised international public opinion that had been downbeat in its expectations. However the critical question is how the understanding will be implemented. Will India walk the talk ? Can the Indian Army be relied upon to implement the line of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? On the 11th, there were still people in India criticizing Jaishankar for failing to put forward a request for “restoring status quo ante” during the talks. These will be the variables (imponderables) in the course of transitioning from the “five-point agreement” to “restoration of peace and tranquility at the border”. During the meeting, Wang Yi stated that it is normal for China and India to have some differences as two neighboring powers, but these differences must be placed in the proper perspective of bilateral relations. And that “the more difficult it is, the more important it is to stabilise the overall situation and maintain mutual trust”.
“A road map to resolve the deadlock”
“Frank and constructive” is how the Chinese and Indian sides described the meeting of their Foreign Ministers in a joint press release. The Times of India reported that on the evening of the 10th, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries discussed the evolution of the border situation and relations between the two countries for two and a half hours. Wang Yi told Jaishankar that the most urgent task was to immediately stop shooting provocations and other dangerous behaviors that violate commitments, and withdraw all transgressing personnel and equipment and disengage as soon as possible. The “Voice of Deutsche Welle” commented that, unlike the tough rhetoric that was seen during the meeting of the two Defense Ministers last week, the atmosphere of this meeting seemed much more relaxed.
After “comprehensive and in-depth discussions”, China and India reached a five-point agreement on the current situation. India’s CNN-News18 website stated on the 11th that both sides believe that the current situation in the border area is not in the interest of either. The five-point consensus has drawn a road map to resolve the deadlock on the border between India and China.
The two Foreign Ministers agreed that both sides should abide by the important consensus on the development of Sino-Indian relations reached by the leaders of the two countries, including on not allowing the differences between the two countries to turn into disputes. Both sides believe that the border defense forces of the two countries should continue their dialogue, disengage as soon as possible, maintain the necessary distance and ease the situation on the ground. The five-point agrement emphasizes that the two sides should abide by the existing border affairs agreements and regulations, maintain peace and tranquility in the border area and avoid any actions that may escalate the situation.
Both two sides agreed to continue to maintain communication through the China-India border issues Special Representatives meeting mechanism, and continue to carry out consultations in the Working Mechanism for Consultations and Coordination on China-India Border affairs. The Hindustan Times paid special attention to the fact that the Foreign Ministers of the two countries also stated that as the situation eases, the two sides should speed up the completion of new confidence building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquility in the border area. The newspaper said that the four-month-long border tensions showed that existing agreements and negotiations have failed to prevent rapid erosion of mutual trust. The statement did not specify the specific content of the new confidence building measures, but it is clear that both New Delhi and Beijing believe that more measures are needed to be put in place before the situation spirals out of control.
The BBC commented that the joint statement was surprising and significant given the intense exchanges between India and China in recent days. While many analysts believe that the probability of a mini-confrontation between the two sides is increasing, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries could still reach an understanding to end the confrontation “as soon as possible”. The British “Financial Times” quoted former Indian military officer and defense analyst, Sushant Singh as saying that the talks and the joint press release are encouraging and show that “the communication channel is open and uninterrupted.”
In an interview with a reporter from the Huan Qiu Shi Bao on the 11th, Qian Feng, Director of the Research Department of the National Institute of Strategic Studies of Tsinghua University, said that the five-point agreements not only focuses on the macro level, reflecting the will of the leaders of the two countries to stabilize bilateral relations, but also has specific guidelines for the next steps. The specific guidelines include achieving disengagement, managing the border situation and establishment of a new mechanism. Although the number of words is not much, the gold content is high; it shows that the high-level officials of both two countries have maintained strategic clarity on Sino-Indian relations. However, as the saying goes, freezing three feet is not a day’s cold; the key now is how the two sides implement it.
A source familiar with the Moscow talks told India’s “Economic Times” on the 11th that India and China may hold military talks on disengagement at the Pangong Lake friction point in the “Ladakh region” in the next few days. The Indian side is waiting for a response from the Chinese side. According to the report, this issue was focused on during the talks between the two Foreign Ministers. The military commanders of both sides will determine the final location of the permanent military bases and the process of gradual withdrawal.
India “must pull back from the brink”
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said on 11 September that the five-point agreement is the first agreement on peace commitments reached between China and India since the June conflict. But Liu Zongyi, a South Asia expert at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, cautioned that it needs to be confirmed whether the Indian military will follow through to the end. He said China and India have held several consultations since the tensions in the Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake, but the actions of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense are not in keeping with their statements. In contrast, Wang Yi made a study tour of Tibet and border areas in August, highlighting the congruence between China’s diplomatic and military agencies. “For China, it’s important to be prepared for any situation that may arise.”
On the 11th, Indian Defense Minister Singh held a meeting in New Delhi with Chief of the Defense Staff Rawat, National Security Advisor Doval and three generals to assess the border situation after the meeting between the Indian and Chinese Foreign Ministers. Sources told the CNN-News18 website that they discussed strategies on how to consolidate border positions. In addition, the induction and deployment of Rafale fighter jets was also on the agenda. According to the report, the day before, Singh used the “Rafale” fighter aircraft to induction ceremony to send a strong signal to China, saying that this was a “historic day” for India’s national security. Taking into account the atmosphere that prevailed on the border, the “Rafale” fighter aircraft was vital (for dealing with China).
There are still people in India who are inciting radical sentiment. On the 11th, India’s opposition Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), among others, criticized Mr. Jaishankar for not demanding “restoration of the status quo ante in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) areas” during his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister. According to India Today, Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi posted a message on his social media account saying, “The Chinese have occupied our land, when is the government going to take it back?” Owaisi, head of the All India Muslim League Council, a local Indian political party, also questioned Jaishankar, demanding that the government disclose details of the meeting.
“It is imperative to rein in those on the edge of a precipice (act now while there is time)
Commenting on this, the latest issue of India’s Outlook magazine said that the Indian Chief of Defence Staff, Rawat, told the India-US Strategic Partnership Forum on September 4 that the Indian army was ready for a two-front war. Although there is no background to justify this almost hyperbolic statement, the most immediate provocation is the Indian Army’s initiative in the “Ladakh region”. Many analysts are now writing that India should drive the PLA out of all “occupied” territory in the “Ladakh region” through a limited war. That is not a result the Indian Army can achieve even at the cost of heavy losses of men and war materiel. India is not only technologically backward, but also strategically and tactically disadvantaged in comparison to the PLA.
Qatar’s Al Jazeera quoted Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University, as saying on the 11th that both China and India have good reasons to de-escalate tensions. India’s economy is mired in the aftermath of its chaotic response to the new-corona pneumonia crisis, and cannot afford to devote significant resources to its military. China, whose economy is beginning to recover, does not want the border conflict to become a disruption. According to the report, though the Sino-Indian understanding is significant, the watchword is caution. Let’s see what happens in the next few weeks or months; that will be the key test.
“China and India trust deficit”
“China and India have a trust deficit issue”. The US “Foreign Policy” magazine commented that one thing in the tension between India and China is becoming more and more obvious and worrying, and that is that neither side trusts the other. Without mutual trust, dialogue can not be effective. The journal stated that New Delhi needs a different approach to its relationship with Beijing: Don’t shy away from (addressing) setbacks when they occur, and check the collective desire of nationalism to prevail.
An Indian analyst told the Huan Qiu Shi Bao reporter on the 11th that the first four points of the five-point consensus between India and China have been mentioned in previous military and diplomatic dialogues, while “speeding up the completion of new confidence building measures” is a brand new formulation. “South China Morning Post” quoted experts as saying that existing arrangements have been violated, especially since the Indian side fired shots that undermined confidence. Both sides are aware of the need for a new arrangement to manage the border area, but the prerequisite for establishing new confidence building measures is that the Indian side must not fire again, and must work in step with the Chinese side to complete disengagement, and withdraw from positions that transgress the Line of Actual Control, as soon as possible.
In its analysis of “how India provoked the conflict with China,” RIA Novosti analyzed that this conflict was rooted in the changes in the basic principles of India’s foreign policy. India believes that alliances with the West, especially the United States, can best safeguard its national interests. India sees its national interests as best served by an alliance with the West, especially the United States. It has worsened India-China relations by supporting the US position on the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and by demanding an international investigation into the source of the new coronavirus. Long Xingchun, Executive Director of Chengdu WorldCom Research Institute, told the Huan Qiu Shi Bao reporter on the 11th that Indian public opinion seems to believe that the country has gained a lot of international support. In fact, even the United States has no reason to help India fight wars. It may sell weapons to India but that cannot change the power balance in the Sino-Indian confrontation. The Modi government should not be led by this illusion.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said on the 11th that the decision of the Chinese and Indian Foreign Ministers to maintain peace on the border during the meeting in Moscow is commendable. On the same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zakharova said: “Russia respects China’s and India’s utilisation of a multilateral dialogue mechanism and their acting independently without interference (being influenced) by other countries, including Russia”.