Significance of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s New Delhi visit

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. (Twitter/@MEAIndia)

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. “Greeted Chinese FM Wang Yi at Hyderabad House,” Jaishankar said while tweeting the first picture of the meeting 

Significance of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s New Delhi visit
Significance of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s New Delhi visit

between the two leaders. Wang last visited India in December 2019.

Why is this meeting important?

Two years into the military standoff along theLine of Actual Controlin Ladakh, Beijing made an unusual outreach Thursday when Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi reached New Delhi in the evening. The standoff in eastern Ladakh began on May 5, 2020 following a violent clash in the Pangong lake area and 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 on the north and south banks ofPangong Tsoin February 2021, and in the Gogra area in August. While troops are yet to disengage in two other areas, the broader de-escalation is nowhere near the horizon. The standoff remains unresolved with about 50,000 troops amassed on either side of the LAC.

So, why this outreach from Beijing?

Beijing has reached out to New Delhi to revive the bilateral dialogue and set the stage for the BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) summit in China later this year. It has proposed a series of events to kickstart the dialogue, starting with possible high-level visits from both sides. To begin with, Beijing proposed the visit by Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi to India.

This is to be followed by a reciprocal visit by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. The Chinese side has also proposed a series of high-level visits by its top politburo members and key officials in President Xi Jinping’s regime.

The Chinese have also suggested an ‘India-China Civilization Dialogue’ to be held in both countries. Besides, they have proposed an India-China Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum and an India-China Film Forum.

What’s in it for Beijing?

China’s ultimate and clear objective, however, is to host Prime MinisterNarendra Modifor the in-person BRICS summit which will be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin as well.

China, which also holds the chair for the RIC (Russia-India-China) trilateral this year, could also host the leaders’ summit on the sidelines of the BRICS summit.

Will it be possible for the PM to visit Xi?

In the current circumstances, it is politically difficult for Modi to attend an in-person meeting with Xi as the border standoff has still not been resolved. Their last face-to-face meeting was in Brazil for the BRICS summit in November 2019. In October 2019, Xi had visited India for an informal summit in Mahabalipuram. The last BRICS summit to take place in China was in Xiamen in September 2017, which was attended by Modi.

In fact, the Doklam border standoff was resolved after two-and-half months, just before the BRICS summit.

But what’s the opportunity?

This time, by reaching out with a Foreign Minister-level visit, Beijing is signalling that it is keen to bring ties back on track. But on the ground, from New Delhi’s perspective, that’s easier said than done.

The standoff in eastern Ladakh began on May 5, 2020 following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry. A potential window of opportunity to unlock the standoff is the upcoming 14th BRICS summit hosted by China.

Just like the Doklam border stand-off was resolved days before the summit in September 2017 in Xiamen, officials feel there is a lever to be used.

Is there an angle from the Russia-Ukrainecrisis?

The timing for beginning the groundwork for the proposed BRICS summit is also significant – Russia is facing a global opprobrium for its war on Ukraine. One of the members of BRICS, Russia will be part of the summit, and standing with the Russian leader will be perceived as an endorsement of sorts.

So, what’s India’s thinking?

From Delhi’s calculus, Beijing’s outreach is an opportunity since two years of strained ties has led to the slide of gains made in the last three decades.

While India has always maintained that the border situation has adversely impacted bilateral ties, China has insisted that the border dispute should be handled appropriately and the larger picture of bilateral ties should be kept in mind. This divergence of approach has meant that there have been no bilateral visits, although there have been focused bilateral meetings between Indian and Chinese Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers in other countries perceived to be neutral venues, like Russia and Tajikistan. The two sides have also participated in several multilateral summits including virtual summits of BRICS, G-20, SCO among others.

Officials said New Delhi’s approach that three “mutuals” are required to mend strained ties between India and China is key. In January 2021, Jaishankar had described the three “mutuals” as mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests and said these were determining factors for ties.

On Thursday, speaking at his alma mater St Stephen’s College, Jaishankar said: “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. A big responsibility of Indian diplomacy, therefore, is to create the widest set of options for such contingencies. This could mean the 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.”

“Where China was concerned, the diplomatic interactions that are going on in parallel to the military standoff 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,” he said.

Did Wang’s visit come after statements from India slamming Beijing?

on Beijing’s association with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad where the Chinese Foreign Minister was a guest.

 “Nations and governments that associate themselves with such exercises should realise the impact it has on their reputation. " Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said.

A day earlier, India had “rejected” what it said were “uncalled for” comments Wang made while referring to Jammu and Kashmir at the OIC conference.

Speaking in Islamabad, Wang had said: “On Kashmir, we have heard again today the calls of many of our Islamic friends. And China shares the same hope.”

New Delhi also reminded the leadership in Beijing that “India refrains from public judgment of their internal issues”. India usually does not criticise China over its internal issues including those related to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, human rights violations and atrocities against Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. Despite the back-to-back public statements critical of Beijing and, specifically, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang’s visit did take place, signalling the seriousness with which Beijing is making this outreach.

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