Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi speaks at the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, at the Parliament House in Islamabad, Pakistan (AFP)
New Delhi: Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi arrived on Thursday evening in New Delhi straight from the Afghan Capital Kabul on a hush-hush visit and is expected to meet external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and national security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval on Friday before leaving for the Nepalese Capital Kathmandu, according to reports. Officials continued to be extremely tight-lipped on the visit even on Thursday, perhaps in an indication of its importance at the highest levels. The visit could finally set the ball rolling for an eventual breakthrough in the Sino-Indian impasse, with New Delhi pushing hard for disengagement by Chinese troops from all friction points in the Ladakh sector. But this could well hinge on how much Beijing is willing to walk the talk, particularly since Prime Minister Narendra Modi is of the firm view that there cannot be normalcy in Sino-Indian ties unless there is peace and tranquillity on the borders, a euphemism for China pulling back its troops and restoring the status quo of early 2020.
China is understood to be keen on strengthening both the multilateral BRICS forum including a visit by PM Modi to China for the BRICS Summit later this year as well as strengthening the trilateral Russia-India-China (RIC) forum, particularly in the wake of the Ukraine conflict and the crippling sanctions imposed by the West on Russia. This is also the first time that a top-level visit is taking place from either country to the other after the deadly conflict at the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh sector between Indian and Chinese troops two years ago. EAM Jaishankar and Mr Wang have held meetings in other locations in third countries such as the Russian Capital Moscow as well as telephonic conversations in the past two years but neither foreign minister had till now visited the other country after the horrific Galwan clash in June, 2020.
Just hours before the visit in an indication of New Delhi’s thinking, EAM S. Jaishankar while delivering an alumni lecture at the elite St. Stephen’s College in the Capital, said, "Few would have anticipated, for example, the turn that India’s relations with China have taken in the last two years. Any prudent policy therefore backs its posture with capabilities and deterrence. ... Where China was concerned, the diplomatic interactions that are going on in parallel to the military stand-off since May 2020 illustrate that foreign and defence policies are really joined at the hip." He added, "That a Rafale aircraft acquisition from France can take place at the same time as that of an MH-60R helicopter or P-8 aircraft from the US, the S-400 missile system from Russia or the Spice bombs from Israel speaks volumes of our nimbleness."
Interestingly, the visit of Mr Wang took place despite India on Wednesday evening slamming the Chinese foreign minister for raking up the Kashmir issue at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers’ conclave hosted by Pakistan in Islamabad, saying China has no locus standi to comment on Jammu and Kashmir which is an internal matter of India and reminding Beijing that India refrains from commenting publicly on China’s internal issues.
Ties between the two Asian giants had deteriorated following the massing of Chinese troops at the border areas in the Ladakh sector that started in April-May 2020 and had eventually led to the deadly clash at the Galwan Valley in which troops of both sides lost their lives. Both nations have since held several rounds of talks at the diplomatic and military level but disengagement between the troops of both sides has not taken place at all friction points due to the perceived reluctance of Chinese troops to pull back. Both countries have also accepted that bilateral ties have gone downhill in the past two years.
The MEA had informed Parliament just last month, "As regards disengagement in the remaining areas along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh, India and China have maintained dialogue through both diplomatic and military channels. Our approach in these talks has been and will continue to be guided by three key principles, that both sides should strictly respect and observe the LAC; neither side should attempt to alter the status quo unilaterally; and all agreements between the two sides must be fully abided by in their entirety."