NEW DELHI: China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in India on Thursday for a two-day visit. He is in India after attending the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Pakistan, where he supported their stand on Kashmir.
This evoked a lot of criticism in India and the Ministry of External Affairs issued a reaction suggesting that he or anyone else refrain from commenting on India’s internal matters. Wang made, what was stated to be an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, and he met his counterpart there.
In a release by Taliban, it was stated that besides political, developmental and diplomatic ties, there was talk of commencing mining work by China in Afghanistan.
On Friday, the Chinese foreign minister is likely to meet External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
It is learnt that the Chinese foreign minister's visit is more to do with the geopolitical turmoil in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine than the bilateral ties.
Interestingly, there was no official word about Wang's visit from either the Ministry of External Affairs or the Chinese government.
Both sides kept the visit under wraps.
At the Friday talks, the Indian side is unlikely to shift focus from the military standoff in eastern Ladakh as it is expected to press for complete disengagement of troops from all the remaining friction points in the region.
The border issue is likely to figure extensively at the meeting between Wang and Doval as they have been serving as the Special Representatives (SR) for boundary talks between the two countries.
The Ukraine crisis is expected to be the other major issue at the talks.
Unlike many other leading powers, India has not criticised Russia yet for its invasion of Ukraine and also abstained from voting at the UN platforms in condemning the Russian attack.
It is also not immediately clear whether the Indian side will facilitate a call on by Wang with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The visit also comes a day after India rejected as uncalled for Wang's comments referring to Jammu and Kashmir at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad.
China has close ties with Russia and it has been giving signals about its willingness to assist Moscow in dealing with the crippling economic sanctions announced by the US and other Western countries following the Russian attack on Ukraine that was launched a month ago.
Wang began a two-day trip to Pakistan on Tuesday primarily to attend a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as a special guest.
Following the conclusion of his trip to Islamabad, he travelled to Afghanistan and held extensive talks with Afghan leaders in Kabul on Thursday.
The Chinese foreign minister is also scheduled to visit Kathmandu from March 25 to 27.
It was China that had sent a proposal to India for a visit to New Delhi by Wang as part of his tour of the region.
Initially, India was learnt to be reluctant to accept the proposal.
In reflection of India's consistent position on ties with China, Prime Minister Modi on Monday told his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, at a virtual summit that peace and tranquillity in eastern Ladakh is an essential prerequisite for normalisation of India's ties with China.
At the 14th India-Japan summit on Saturday, New Delhi conveyed to Tokyo the same line that its ties with Beijing cannot be business as usual until peace is restored in the eastern Ladakh region.
India and China have held a series of diplomatic and military talks in the last one-and-half years to resolve the eastern Ladakh row.
Jaishankar and Wang held several rounds of talks in Moscow and Dushanbe to defuse tensions in eastern Ladakh during the period.
In September 2020, Jaishankar and Wang held extensive talks in Moscow on the sidelines of a conclave of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) during which they reached a five-point agreement to resolve the Ladakh standoff.
The pact included measures like quick disengagement of troops, avoiding action that could escalate tensions, adherence to all agreements and protocols on border management and steps to restore peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The two foreign ministers had held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of another SCO meeting in Tajik capital city Dushanbe in July last year with a focus on the border row.
They again met in Dushanbe in September.
India has been consistently maintaining that peace and tranquillity along LAC was key for the overall development of the bilateral ties.
Earlier this month, Wang said some forces have always sought to stoke tensions between China and India, in an apparent reference to the US.
On March 11, India and China held the 15th round of high-level military dialogue to resolve the pending issues in the eastern Ladakh region.
The border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5, 2020, following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas.
The face-off escalated after the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15, 2020.
As many as 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed in the clashes.
Both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.
As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process last year in the north and south banks of the Pangong lake and in the Gogra area.
Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the sensitive sector.
This is the first official visit of a senior Chinese official since the Galwan episode in 2020. India hopes there is a resolution on the LAC.
Meanwhile, Jaishankar, at his college alumni meet on Thursday, said, “India faces more than its fair share of external challenges because so many of our boundaries have not been settled. Given the serious repercussions, diplomacy is also very relevant to ensuring peace and tranquility if not more.”
It’s for the same reason that India will try to work out a peaceful resolution of the LAC, despite the hard feelings due to China’s comment on Kashmir, he said.
“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. Here too, the value of global support and understanding is self-evident,” added the external affairs minister.
The diplomatic interactions going on with China in parallel to the military standoff since May 2020 illustrate that foreign and defence policies are really joined at the hip, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.
Delivering the inaugural St Stephen's College MRF Distinguished Alumni Annual Lecture, he said India faces more than its fair share of external challenges, "in part because so many of our boundaries have not been settled".
Given the serious repercussions, diplomacy is also very relevant to ensuring peace and tranquillity, if not more, he said, adding that it is a critical support for defence.
The world being what it is, self-interest and convergence cannot be fully counted upon, especially with neighbours, Jaishankar said.
"Their ambitions and emotions are not always predictable, nor indeed their risk-taking propensity. 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," he said.
A big responsibility of Indian diplomacy, therefore, is to create the widest set of options for such contingencies, he said, adding that this could mean acquisition of defence capabilities and other supportive measures or securing the understanding for our policies and actions from the international community.
And for that matter, in managing or resolving more fraught situations, he said.
Noting that a very different challenge is being faced on the Western boundary vis-a-vis Pakistan, the external affairs minister said on that front, the initial goal of diplomacy was to expose and de-legitimise Pakistan's cross-border terrorism.
"When counter-actions were required such as in Uri in 2016 and Balakot in 2019, effective diplomacy ensured global understanding of India's actions," he said.
"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. Here too, the value of global support and understanding is self-evident," Jaishankar said.
Underlining that the leveraging of a multi-polar world has been particularly visible in terms of weapons and technologies needed by our defence forces, Jaishankar said 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".
These are typically accompanied by military exercises and policy exchanges that bring about greater strategic comfort, he said.
In short, diplomacy supports, empowers and facilitates the national security effort, he added.
Jaishankar said some of this happens on the domestic side as well, even if it is less obvious, and pointed out that peace at home has often been troubled by insurgent groups operating in the neighbourhood.
"Adept diplomacy, however, has effectively discouraged neighbours from providing shelter or support, with one notable exception of course. Separatism and fundamentalism have also been propagated from destinations afar, just as violence is sometimes rationalized," he said.
The protection of free speech are misused, usually in the name of democratic rights, Jaishankar said, adding that when arguments and persuasion reach limits, other forms of displeasure sometimes need to be expressed.
"Our overall posture does radiate the message that India will no longer be a soft target and diplomacy in that sense is not always a pleasant business," he said.
A different world view propelled a comprehensive review of the foreign policy post-2014, Jaishankar said.
The new energy in India's endeavours is evident, notably in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's own engagements, he said.
"Some of India's neighbours had not bilaterally hosted an Indian Prime Minister for years on end. Even a proximate region like the Gulf, leave alone those much further off, had seen a want of high-level attention for decades. Smaller nations, whether they are in the Caribbean or the Pacific, had actually been completely neglected,' he said.
"And to be very honest with you, Nations of Africa and Latin America had found their reach-out to be inadequately reciprocated. Now all of this has changed, and you can see that in terms of visits - bilateral visits, in terms of collective summits, in development partnerships and in fact opening of more Indian Embassies abroad," the minister said.
In India's immediate region, the message of 'Neighbourhood First' began to resonate, in fact, from the swearing-in ceremony in 2014, Jaishankar pointed put.
"Its successor in 2019 further reinforced that impression. But this was not just symbolism; discernible progress in projects and activities have also lent it credibility," Jaishankar said.
The minister also lauded the evacuation of Indians in August last year from Afghanistan at the time of the Taliban takeover.
A huge effort was made by the Indian government to bring people home, Jaishankar said.
(With PTI Inputs)