India-China Diplomatic Talks: Is It Too Late For Damage Control?
According to MEA, Dr S Jaishankar “conveyed the protest of the Govt of India in the strongest terms” to China.
Two days after violent clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh claimed lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers, with several others reportedly injured, India and China had their first high-level diplomatic exchange. External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a telephonic conversation.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, Jaishankar “conveyed the protest of the Government of India in the strongest terms” on the violent clashes. Jaishankar told Wang Yi that the Chinese troops sought to erect a structure in Galwan Valley on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), even as the ground commanders were trying to implement the consensus arrived at during the 6 June military talks between Lt Gen Harinder Singh, 14 Corps Commander and Maj Gen Lin Liu of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
China Expresses Its Protest
“While this became a source of dispute, the Chinese side took pre-meditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties. It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo,” Dr Jaishankar informed Wang Yi. For the second day on 17 June, China, through its Foreign Ministry spokesperson, also continued to claim that entire Galwan Valley area as is its territory.
Rejecting Chinese claims of sovereignty over Galwan Valley, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, in a late night response said, “Making exaggerated and untenable claims is contrary to this understanding.”
India, in its statement on 17 June, said that both sides “should scrupulously and sincerely implement the understanding that was reached by the Senior Commanders on 6 June.”
Meanwhile, in a clear sign of China hardening its position, the Foreign Ministry statement issued by Beijing said that Wang Yi told Jaishankar that India should not only investigate the clashes that led to casualties and injuries on both sides, but also “punish those responsible”.
“China once again expressed its strong protest to the Indian side. We urge the Indian side to conduct a thorough investigation on this, severely punish those responsible for the incident, strictly control the frontline troops, and immediately stop all provocative actions to ensure that such incidents cannot occur again,” the statement from Beijing said, following the phone conversation.
PM Modi Breaks Silence Over LAC Situation, Calls For All-Party Meeting
Jaishankar is expected to participate in a video meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, and Wang Yi under the RIC (Russia India China) framework, to discuss COVID-19 cooperation in the coming week. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson has now announced that the meeting will take place on 23 June.
“RIC discussions do not involve issues that relate to bilateral relations of a country with another member of this format,” Lavrov clarified, when asked if the LAC standoff could be discussed during the virtual meet between the foreign ministers.
The India-China telephonic exchange took place on a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally broke his silence on the killing of the Indian soldiers.
“I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our jawans will not be in vain. For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important... India wants peace but it is capable to give a befitting reply if instigated,” he said in a message to the nation. And PM Modi, along with Home Minster Amit Shah and 15 chief ministers, also paid homage to the deceased soldiers by observing two minutes of silence after a video meeting on COVID strategy. PM Modi has also called for an all party virtual meeting on 19 June at 5 PM to discuss the LAC situation.
Beijing Continues to Evade Question of Casualties on Chinese Side
“The Indian side must not misjudge the current situation and must not underestimate China’s firm will to safeguard territorial sovereignty,” Wang Yi was quoted to have told Jaishankar as per the readout from Beijing. China has so far not categorically accepted casualties on its side or given any numbers officially. The 17 June statement simply blames the Indian Army for ‘violent action’ in Galwan ‘resulting in casualties’. This, even as Indian news agencies report that at least 45 PLA soldiers have died or sustained injuries.
According to a US media report, a US intelligence assessment has said that some 35 Chinese soldiers were killed in the border clash on Monday night, but these numbers are difficult to confirm given the lack of free media in China and the opacity of the ruling party in Beijing.
Chinese media have also downplayed the border clashes which hardly found space in the national papers or state-run TV news channels.
“EAM underlined that this unprecedented development will have a serious impact on the bilateral relationship. The need of the hour was for the Chinese side to reassess its actions and take corrective steps,” said the MEA statement. According to Delhi, Jaishankar and Wang Yi, in their conversation, agreed that “Neither side would take any action to escalate matters, and instead, would ensure peace and tranquillity as per bilateral agreements and protocols.”
How UK, US, Russia, Pakistan Have Reacted
Meanwhile, foreign envoys in Delhi are closely following tense developments at the Line of Actual Control though none of them have been briefed by the MEA about the ground situation so far, sources have confirmed. A day after the clashes, batting for Sino-India dialogue amid heightened tensions, a British High Commission spokesperson said, “Clearly these are concerning reports. We encourage China and India to engage in dialogue on issues relating to the border – violence is in no-one’s interest.”
The White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, when asked if US President Trump will mediate between India and China, said that there are “No formal plans on that”. Offering condolences for the soldiers who lost their lives during the confrontation at the LAC, she mentioned that the India-China situation was discussed during the phone call between President Trump and PM Modi on 2 June.
Kremlin hopes that India and China will iron out the border conflict mutually, and both countries are close partners and allies of Russia, said President Putin’s spokesperson in a balanced statement.
“It has already been announced that the military representatives of India and China have made contact; they are discussing the situation, discussing measures to de-escalate it. We welcome this,” said Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at a press briefing on 17 June.
Pakistan called the matter a ‘bilateral issue’ between India and China.
Incidentally, top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi, who is the Special Representative on Boundary Talks along with NSA Ajit Doval, is expected to hold a face-to-face meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Hawaii later this evening amid the worst US-China relations in decades and an ongoing trade war. It remains to be seen if the Sino-India tensions find any mention when the two men meet.
(Smita Sharma is an independent journalist and tweets at @Smita_Sharma.)
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