Two Chinese ministers’ India visit provides panacea to the injured Sino-India relations
Sino-India cooperation is of vital importance for regional stability amid this unstable international atmosphere.
Relations between two close neighboring countries and the world's first and second populous countries - China and India have witnessed some downward spiral in recent years due to the bloody clash between the two countries’ border troops in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western section of the Sino-Indian border.
Since then, things have become more complicated and sensitive as both sides have militarized the LAC while casting blame on each other for trespassing into the poorly demarcated Sino-Indian border. Sad but true, the areas of trade and economic partnership and people-to-people relations have suffered to a large degree as a result of the 35-month-long border row that does not serve the common interests of two important neighbours in Asia.
Against this dwindling Sino-Indian relationship, the visits and meetings of Chinese defense and foreign ministers with their Indian counterparts on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on April 27-28 in the Indian capital New Delhi and on May 4-5 in Goa respectively were of profound significance to bridge the deep and sharp gap in the derailed Sino-Indian ties.
Welcoming China’s foreign and defense ministers strongly signaled that India’s highest level is willing to reset an amicable Indian-Chinese relationship, leaving aside the fatal Galwan Valley episode of 2020. India is also hosting the 23rd Annual SCO Leaders' Summit on July 3-4 and the 18th G20 Summit on September 9-10 in New Delhi. India sincerely expects President Xi Jinping’s attendance at the two key summits under its presidency. Therefore, the visits of China’s two ministers can be seen as a prelude to the SCO and G20 Leaders' Summit.
China's new Defense Minister Li Shangfu participated in the SCO Defense Ministers' Meeting on April 27-28 in New Delhi. His visit took place on the heels of China's new Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s participation in the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting on March 2 in New Delhi. Within a short span of one month, China’s two key ministers’ visit to India demonstrated China’s willingness to improve the perilous state of Sino-India relations in a turbulent world. More importantly, the participation of Qin Gang and Li Shangfu in three important meetings under India’s chairmanship strongly indicated that a highest-level political meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the coming days is only a matter of time now.
However, before the two Chinese diplomats’ visit to India some stabilizing factors in Sino-Indian engagements signaled that both sides are eager to iron out their differences in ties. Indian and Chinese soldiers exchanged greetings and sweets to ring in the New Year-2023. The 26th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was held in Beijing on February 22, 2023. It is worth noting that the WMCC meeting marked the first such talks held in person since July 2019. The China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting entered the 18th round held at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Chinese side of the LAC on April 23. All these feel-good masseurs have renewed optimism in Sino-Indian ties.
During their first in-person meeting on April 27, while Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh underlined the centrality of the resolution of the border row for the improvement in India-China ties by stating that “violation of existing agreements has eroded the entire basis of bilateral relations”, his Chinese counterpart Shangfu said, “Common interest between China and India prevails over discrepancies, thus both sides should view bilateral ties and their development in a comprehensive, long-term and strategic way” and “border issue should be properly managed within bilateral ties”, rather than hinting at the prospect of a complete disengagement or de-escalation.
Although the two defense ministers’ remarks were based on their national interests, the bright part of their meeting is that the two ministers agreed to work together to continuously enhance mutual trust between their militaries and make proper contributions to the development of bilateral relations which is the general expectation of the people of the two neighboring countries also.
On the other hand, during the sidelines of the two-day SCO Foreign Ministers meeting on May 4, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Qin Gang held their second bilateral meeting focusing on the turbulent state of the LAC and the need to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas. It should be recalled here that during their first meeting in March, Jaishankar conveyed India's position on the border tension with China by stating that India's ties with China 'abnormal' due to violation of border management agreements by China.
On his part, the Chinese Foreign Minister described the China-India border situation as “generally stable” and reiterated that “both the neighbouring countries should explore a road to peaceful and friendly coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation”. It’s really encouraging to hear that the Indian Foreign Minister assured his Chinese counterpart that India hopes to continue to work with China to maintain peace and stability in the border areas through consultation.
There is little doubt that all these meetings have been important steps in developing the normalization of relations between two Himalayan neighbours. Expecting an immediate solution to the decades-old boundary question is not realistic. The continuation of bilateral meetings without preconditions through military and diplomatic channels can accelerate the disengagement process. Since there is no agreement of a common border currently recognized by the two governments, a safe distance is precisely needed for both China and India to coexist.
Sino-India cooperation is of vital importance for regional stability amid this unstable international atmosphere. China’s foreign and defense minister’s India visit had set the stage for the face-to-face meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of either the SCO summit or the G20 summit. Considering the strength and development of India-China bilateral ties, it is hoped that a one-to-one Xi-Modi meeting like the previous two informal summits, first in Wuhan, China in April 2018 and second in Chennai in October 2019, can solve the problems of geographical competition by mutual discussions so as to further blossoming Sino-India bilateral bonding which is needed now.