External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said China has given India “five differing explanations” for deploying large forces at the LAC, adding this violation of bilateral pacts has “very significantly damaged” their relationship that is now at its “most difficult phase” in the last 30-40 years.
The comments by Mr Jaishankar during an online interactive session organised by Australian think tank Lowy Institute came against the backdrop of the over seven-month-long military standoff between India and China at the Line of Actual ControL(LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
“We are today probably at the most difficult phase of our relationship with China, certainly in the last 30 to 40 years or you could argue even more,” Mr Jaishankar said highlighting various aspects of the bilateral ties in the last three decades.
“The relationship this year has been very significantly damaged. We are very clear that maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC is the basis for the rest of the relationship to progress. You can’t have the kind of situation you have on the border and say let’s carry on with life in all other sectors of activity. It’s just unrealistic,” he said.
Mr Jaishankar said: “We have this problem because from 1988, our relationship had its hiccups, we had our issues and differences but the direction of the ties broadly were positive.”
The external affairs minister said the relationship progressed in trade, travel and various other domains as both sides inked several pacts to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC.
“All of this was posited on the fact that while we were trying to solve the boundary question, we would maintain peace and tranquillity along the border areas,” he said, adding there were incidents of arguments between patrols along the border “but you never had a major breach of understanding”.
He said multiple agreements between the two sides were inked from 1993 with a commitment that both parties will not bring large forces to the border areas.
“Now for some reason, for which the Chinese have to date given us five differing explanations, the Chinese have violated it. The Chinese have literally brought tens of thousands of soldiers in full military preparation mode right to the LAC in Ladakh. Naturally the relationship would be profoundly disturbed by this,” he said.
Referring to the Galwan Valley clashes in eastern Ladakh in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, Mr Jaishankar said the incident “completely changed national sentiment”.
The external affairs minister also said the “very big issue” is how to get the relationship back on track.
He also mentioned various diplomatic and military engagements between the two sides in the last few months including his meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow as well as talks between the two defence ministers.
“We have multiple layers of communication. Communication is not the issue, the issue is the fact that we have agreements and those agreements are not being observed”.
Asked about his stint in China as India’s ambassador and his views on Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr Jaishankar referred to his observation made in his book “The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World”.
“I think there has been an evolution in China, my book basically makes the case that 2008-09 was the tipping point for that change. And you have today a China whose engagement with the world is very different from the way it used to be conducted 20 years ago,” he said.
“Now you could argue that it is natural as (when) a country goes up the power hierarchy that its behavioural pattern would change, I reserve comment on it, but clearly no question that you have a very much more nationalistic China and that is expressed sort of down the line in variety of ways and often in policies as well,” Mr Jaishankar said.
Asked how India’s ties with the US will be under Joe Biden’s administration, Mr Jaishankar said the US president-elect has goodwill for India and made positive contributions in growth of the ties between the two countries. He said the structural and objective part of the relations brought the countries together.
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