Recognition of ‘mutual respect, mutual sensitivities and mutual interests’ is key to repairing relations, says External Affairs Minister.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Thursday that a recognition of “mutual respect, mutual sensitivities and mutual interests” was key to repairing India-China relations, after what he called a year of “exceptional stress” in a relationship “profoundly disturbed” by the border crisis.

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China’s actions last year had “not only signalled a disregard of commitments to reduce troop levels” but also “a willingness” to breach the peace and tranquillity on the border that had been the foundation for the relationship, he said, speaking at the start of the All India Conference of China Studies (AICCS), organised by the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi, and Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) China Studies Centre.

“For all the disagreements we had,” the External Affairs Minister said, “the fact is the border areas still remained fundamentally peaceful,” with the last incident of a loss of life in 1975, prior to 2020.

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Twenty Indian soldiers, and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers, lost their lives in a clash on June 15 last year in the Galwan Valley, following tensions that erupted in early May triggered by transgressions by China across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), an amassing of troops, and what India has described as a unilateral attempt to redraw the LAC in several areas in eastern Ladakh.

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This was why last year’s events, he said, had “profoundly disturbed the relationship”, impacting public and political opinion. Until now, India was “yet to receive a credible explanation for the change in China’s stance or reasons for its amassing of troops”.

Also read: Explained | What explains the India-China border flare-up?

While there were discussions under way through various mechanisms to take forward disengagement, he said “any expectation that [events on the border] can be brushed aside and life can carry on undisturbed despite the situation in the border is simply not realistic.”

He said both sides had “painstakingly” worked to normalise relations after the post-1962 war freeze and the first prime ministerial visit in 1988. For the border areas, he said, both had agreed a complete and practical set of understandings and agreements focused on border management, while negotiations were being conducted on the boundary dispute. The advancement of ties, he said, was “predicated on ensuring that peace and tranquillity was not disturbed, and the LAC was both observed and respected by both sides.”

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“For this reason, it was explicitly agreed the two countries would refrain from amassing troops on their common border,” he said, along with a detailed understanding of handling frictions that would arise.

‘No progress over the years’

Over the years, he said, there was no sign of progress of arriving at a common understanding of the LAC, while there was “increasing construction of border infrastructure, especially in the Chinese side.” India, he added, had made efforts to reduce the considerable infrastructure gap since 2014, including through greater budgetary commitments and road building.

The External Affairs Minister suggested “three mutuals” and “eight broad propositions” as a way forward for the relationship. “Mutual respect, mutual sensitivities and mutual interests” were “determining factors”, he said.

The first proposition, he said, was that agreements already reached must be adhered to in their entirety, both in letter and in spirit. Both sides also needed to strictly observe and respect the LAC, and any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo was completely unacceptable.

Third, peace and tranquillity in border areas was the basis for the development of the relationship in other domains. If that was disturbed, he said, the rest of the relationship would be too.

The fourth proposition, he said, was that while both remain committed to a multipolar world, they should recognise that a multipolar Asia was one of its essential constituents. While each state had its interests, concerns and priorities, sensitivities to them could not be be one-sided and relations were reciprocal in nature. As rising powers, neither should ignore the other’s set of aspirations, he added.

While there “will always be divergence and differences”, their management is essential to ties, Mr. Jaishankar said, adding that the last proposition was that as civilisational states, India and China “must always take the long view”.

‘Cooperation and competition’

He said even before the events of 2020, the relationship had reflected “a duality of cooperation and competition”. While both sides had made a common cause on development and economic issues and common membership of plurilateral groups was a meeting point, there were divergences when it came to interests and aspirations.

He cited as examples China’s issuing of stapled visas to Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir in 2010, a reluctance from China to deal with some of India’s military commands (Beijing had that same year refused to host the Northern Army Commander), China’s opposition to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member, the blocking of U.N. listings of Pakistani terrorists, and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, violating India’s sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir.

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