Hours after Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla described the situation along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh as “unprecedented” since the 1962 war with China, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe held a meeting Friday night in Moscow to try and resolve the border crisis.
Singh and Wei met for 2 hours and 20 minutes on the sidelines of a gathering of Defence Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Wei had sought a meeting with Singh on Thursday, days after Indian troops occupied strategic heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso and Rechin La.
India hopes this changed situation on the ground in Ladakh will make the Chinese return to the disengagement talks table. The Chinese have been reluctant to step back from the Pangong Tso north bank and Gogra Post after crossing points which India says mark the LAC.
Ahead of the meeting at Hotel Metropol in Moscow, Shringla, speaking at a seminar in New Delhi organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs, said India “will not yield” on “territorial integrity and sovereignty” but is “open to resolving outstanding issues through dialogue”.
Responding to questions, Shringla said: “I think you are right in saying that we have had an unprecedented situation on our India-China border. We have never had the sort of situation since 1962… we have lost, for the first time, lives of soldiers, which has not happened in the last 40 years. It is an unprecedented situation.”
“We have also seen that there has been an attempt to take unilateral action… there seems to be an effort to change facts on the ground… we will be firm and resolute in resisting this. And as far as we are concerned, there will be no compromise on our sovereignty and integrity,” he said.
“At the same time, we, as a responsible nation, are always willing to talk or willing to engage… even in the depth of the Covid crisis, we have kept our communication lines open. Our senior commanders have been talking on the ground, diplomats have been talking to each other, both in Beijing in Delhi. Even as we speak, ground commanders are talking to each other.”
“But it is a fact that it cannot be business as usual… unless there is peace and tranquillity in our border areas, the normal bilateral relationship will be affected. There is a linkage between what is happening on the border and our larger relationship and that fact, I think, is very, very evident,” he said.
“We haven’t seen this magnitude of amassing of forces on the border… But what is important is that during difficult moments of this crisis, we have been engaged, both militarily and diplomatically, with China.”
At the SCO meeting in Moscow, Singh told the gathering: “Peaceful, stable and secure region of SCO member states, which is home to over 40 per cent of the global population, demands a climate of trust and cooperation, non-aggression, respect for international rules and norms, sensitivity to each other’s interest and peaceful resolution of differences.
“If I may borrow an idea articulated by our Prime Minister in a different context, our goal should be ‘Security and Growth for all in the Region’,” he said.
On the situation in the Middle East, Singh said “India has vital interests and links of civilisation and culture with all states in the Gulf” and asked the region’s countries, “all of which are dear and friendly to India” to “resolve differences by dialogue based on mutual respect, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of each other”.
On Afghanistan, he said the security situation there “remains a concern” and that “India will continue to support the efforts of the people and Government of Afghanistan for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled inclusive peace process”.
Singh reaffirmed India’s commitment to the evolution of a global security architecture that is open, transparent, inclusive, rules-based and anchored in international laws.
Also Friday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar participated in a videoconference of BRICS Foreign Ministers which included Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
In a Twitter post later, Jaishankar said: “Exchanged views on the international situation and regional hotspots including Afghanistan and West Asia. Urged full support of BRICS in reforming UNSC as an exercise in our collective faith in meaningful multilateralism.”
Meanwhile, Russian and Indian navy ships are carrying out the Indra Navy exercise in the Bay of Bengal. The biennial bilateral maritime exercise, the Indian Navy, “epitomises the long-term strategic relationship between the two navies”.
The Indian Navy is represented by guided missile destroyer INS Ranvijay, indigenous frigate INS Sahyadri and fleet tanker INS Shakti, along with their integral helicopters, while Russia has sent destroyer Admiral Vinogradov, destroyer Admiral Tributs and fleet tanker Boris Butoma of the Pacific Fleet based in Vladivostok.