External affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met for crucial talks in Moscow on Thursday evening with hopes of making a breakthrough in the face of a spike in tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after both countries amassed more troops in the Ladakh sector.
The two leaders were in the same room twice earlier in the day – first for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and then for a luncheon meeting of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping – before they began their bilateral talks a little after 8pm Indian time.
The meeting continued for almost two hours, people familiar with developments said.
There was no word from the external affairs ministry on the bilateral meeting, which was seen as crucial for ending the impasse in the disengagement and de-escalation process along the LAC after five rounds of talks each by military commanders and the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs since June.
However, in marked contrast to the studied silence from the Indian side on the meetings in Moscow, China’s state-run media kept up its propaganda even as the talks between Jaishankar and Wang were underway.
Before meeting Jaishankar, Wang held a bilateral meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi. A readout from the foreign ministry in Islamabad quoted Qureshi as saying that Pakistan “stands firmly behind China on core issues of its national interest”.
Qureshi also said that “India’s expansionist and unilateral actions, particularly since 5 August 2019, have been imperilling regional peace and security”, according to the readout. India did not immediately issue a statement .
There have been face-offs between India and China on the south bank of Pangong Lake after Chinese troops carried out what were described as provocative military movements to change the status quo during August 29-30. The latest face-off occurred on September 7, when Chinese soldiers fired in the air after they were dissuaded from closing in on an Indian forward position – the first time guns were used at the LAC since 1975.
Since then, both sides have further strengthened their military presence in the region by moving in additional troops, tanks and other weaponry. The Chinese side, however, has been rattled by India’s proactive move of positioning its troops on several strategic heights to prevent further land grabs on the south bank of Pangong Lake.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a weekly virtual media briefing that both sides are in “regular touch” through military and diplomatic channels to resolve the border situation, and this was also the consensus when defence minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on the margins of another SCO meeting in Moscow last Friday.
India’s position continues to be the resolution of the border standoff through peaceful negotiations, Srivastava added.
A joint statement on the RIC foreign ministers’ meeting said Jaishankar, Wang and their Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov exchanged views on strengthening trilateral cooperation and topical issues of international and regional importance in the spirit of mutual understanding, friendship and trust.
They noted that “common development and cooperation of the three countries is conducive to promoting global growth, peace and stability”, according to the statement. They also reiterated their “support for inclusive multilateralism and respect for universally recognised principles of international law”.
Lavrov officially handed over chairmanship of RIC to Jaishankar during the meeting.
But China’s nationalist Global Times tabloid tweeted a photo released by the National Defense Journal that shows PLA troops patrolling an area along the disputed border and noted slogans in Mandarin on a cliff read “never to yield an inch of our beautiful rivers and mountains”.
The tabloid also posted a link to an editorial in a tweet that said: “Facts have proven Indian nationalist forces yield to coercion, but not to persuasion. They very much need another lesson in failure before believing China’s commitment to long-term border peace is not weakness.”
In yet another tweet, Global Times cited analysts as saying that if the “China-India foreign ministers’ meeting fails to reach a positive result, or the two sides cannot execute the reached agreement at the front line, this could be a dangerous signal that China and India are unlikely to solve the crisis peacefully”.
Hu Xijin, the editor of the tabloid, said in a tweet that if Indian troops “don’t withdraw from the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake, the PLA will confront them all winter long”.