China-India border clash: civil words cannot hide the lack of trust
- The joint statement released after the Chinese and Indian foreign ministers met in Moscow reiterates old formulations, and the divergence in media reports on it only highlights the bitterness that has built up since May
Against this backdrop, the more positive outcome of the Moscow meeting is that there has been no breakdown of dialogue between the two Asian giants and a joint statement was issued, after talks which reportedly got “a little heated”. A five-point consensus was arrived at to ease tensions, but closer scrutiny of the agreement would indicate this does not point to a breakthrough.
The five points are anodyne in their content and reiterate earlier formulations: “do not allow differences to become disputes”, “troops … should continue dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions”, and so on.
Explained: the history of China’s territorial disputes
But even before the ink was dry on the joint agreement, both sides issued separate statements to their domestic constituency. Here the fine print was very divergent on critical issues.
One report in official Chinese media claimed that “the Indian side doesn’t want tensions to escalate in the border area” and asserted that Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar had said that India’s policy towards China had not changed. According to Jaishankar, the report said, India did not consider “the development of India-China relations to be dependent on the settlement of the boundary issue”.
This is at variance with New Delhi’s position regarding the LAC. Indian officials at the Moscow talks told domestic media that India had emphasised that the bilateral relationship was dependent on a peaceful border. In addition, while the joint statement made no reference to both sides returning to the status quo position in April, Delhi has repeatedly exhorted Beijing to pull back from the areas and locations it has intruded into along the Indian side of the LAC.
The lack of mutual trust is evident from the divergences between the joint statement and the official spin given by Beijing. Hence the strongly held view in Delhi is that India can no longer take China at its word in relation to the developments along the LAC.
China, India accuse each other of firing shots in tense border region
Consequently, the tone and words used by Beijing have become muscular. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi reportedly conveyed to his Indian counterpart “China’s stern position on the situation in the border areas, emphasising that the imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions”.
It is difficult to be optimistic about the outcome of the Moscow talks.
Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar is director of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), an independent think tank based in New Delhi