India on Friday said the onus is on China to address the remaining unresolved issues relating to the eastern Ladakh row and that peace and tranquillity along the frontier were key for the restoration of normal relations between the two sides. In an interactive session at a virtual conference, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the entire basis of the relationship was predicated on having peace and tranquillity along the border.
“Today, that is not the case,” he said, referring to “multiple provocations” along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh by China last year. “We have obviously seen this as a unilateral provocation, we have tried to deal with it… through negotiations and through talks, and to some extent, we have addressed some of the issues that had arisen out of this situation that was created by China,” he said.
The foreign secretary said there are still issues that needed to be addressed. “But there are still friction points and there are still issues that we need to…and we are very clear that until these issues are addressed and our border areas are peaceful and tranquil, we will not be able to go into what is known as a normal relationship as we go forward,” he said.
“How do you see that situation evolving and I think we will have to be guided by the progress and the level of cooperation, the willingness that you see on the part of China in how we take the issues forward,” Shringla added.
He was replying to a question on India’s ties with China at the conference organized by the Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI). The foreign secretary said the onus is on China to ensure that the remaining issues are addressed. “Obviously the fact is that we need to work on it, we have to see how to; we are obviously looking at resolving the issues…The onus is on China to ensure that the issues that remain are addressed,” he said.
In his address on India’s foreign policy in the post-Covid world, Shringla also said “the rise of China has also placed us in a central role at the geopolitical stage.” “It is our largest neighbor and one with which we share more than just a border and proximity. We have also had to confront a specific strategic challenge posed by China and its tactics on our shared border,” he said.
India and China were locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year. However, the two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks.
The two sides are now engaged in talks to extend the disengagement process to the remaining friction points. India has been particularly pressing for disengagement of troops in Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang. Shringla said India has a fair amount of trade and economic linkages with China and mentioned supply chains and raw materials for Indian industry, saying apart it comes from the neighboring country.
“Obviously, as with any other country, there are economic and other factors which form part of that relation, an inter-dependent relation. But I think the entire basis of that relationship has been predicated on having peace and tranquillity on our borders.
“After all, in 1988, when we decided to open a dialogue and normalise relations with China, it was based on the borders remaining settled,” he said. Shringla said it was decided to isolate the border-related issues until both sides could sit down and try and address them without impacting the relationship. He said both sides have been fairly clear that a normal relationship is based on the borders being peaceful and tranquil.
On Thursday, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said early completion of the disengagement process in the remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh could pave the way for both Indian and Chinese troops to consider de-escalation and ensure full restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas. There was no visible forward movement in disengagement of troops in the remaining friction points as the Chinese side did not show flexibility in their approach on it at the 11th round of military talks.
Last month, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane said that there can be no de-escalation without complete disengagement at all friction points in eastern Ladakh and that the Indian Army is prepared for all contingencies in the region. Gen Naravane also said that India is dealing with China in a “firm” and “non-escalatory” manner to ensure the sanctity of its claims in eastern Ladakh, and that it was even open to initiating confidence-building measures.
In his address, Shringla also said that completely new threats and security challenges such as terrorism, climate change and biological and other non-traditional threats have emerged and continue to emerge. “New technologies have created both new industries and new political currents. Non-traditional threats and new technologies have combined to form a whole new spectrum of sub-conventional security challenges,” he added.