New Delhi The presence of a large number of Chinese troops in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) presents a critical security challenge to India and has disturbed the relationship built by the two sides over 30 years, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.
Participating in a discussion on global challenges confronting India along with former Australian premier Kevin Rudd for Asia Society, Jaishankar expressed surprise at the nearly six-month border standoff, especially since it followed the efforts by India and China to improve their ties through two informal summits.
“It has obviously had a very deep public impact and a very major political impact and it has left the relationship profoundly disturbed,” he said, referring to the large numbers of Chinese forces deployed at friction points on the LAC and the “tragic” clash in Galwan Valley on June 15 that killed 20 Indian soldiers.
“I haven’t got a reasonable explanation…from them [Chinese] on this matter,” he said, adding that the concentration of Chinese troops at the disputed border represented a “critical security challenge”.
The informal summits between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in 2018 and at Mamallapuram in 2019 provided an opportunity to the two leaders to spend time and directly talk to each other “about their concerns” without any bureaucratic filters, Jaishankar said.
At the second summit held a year ago, a lot of the discussions centred round “the future, our prospects [and] issues between us” and “how do we work out our own relationship”, he added.
“What happened this year was a very sharp departure…over the course of a relationship over 30 years,” he said, noting that the two sides “painstakingly” built their ties since former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988 despite India’s concerns on trade issues and China’s relationship with Pakistan.
The basis for building this relationship “has been peace and tranquillity along the LAC” and multiple agreements created the framework for this by limiting military forces in border areas and setting the stage for border management, he said. The events of this year marked a “departure from these agreements”, he added.
In response to a question from Rudd, Jaishankar made it clear that India’s approach towards Pakistan hinged on Islamabad stopping the use of terrorism as a policy.
“[India is] still dealing with the perennial issues – terrorism from Pakistan continues, and terrorism remains publicly acknowledged by their government as a policy that they are justifying,” he said. “It makes it very hard to conduct normal relations with them.”
Pakistan doesn’t “do normal trade with India”, didn’t give the country Most Favoured Nation (MFN)-status and has blocked connectivity with Afghanistan, he said, adding: “Until we address that problem, this challenge of how do you have a normal relationship with this very unique neighbour is a very troubling issue for our foreign policy.”