China's opposition to border infrastructure in Ladakh erodes goodwill created by Jaishankar-Wang Yi talks
China has opposed the development of infrastructure in border areas and has also said that it does not recognise the Union Territory of Ladakh
The talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi earlier this month had raised hopes that tensions along the Line of Actual Control could ease soon. However, recent actions by Beijing have given little cause for optimism.
Earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin made several belligerent statements — from opposing infrastructure development in border areas to saying that China does not recognise the Union Territory of Ladakh.
These statements only serve to negate the slight thaw in relations between the two countries that had been achieved as a result of talks between Jaishankar and Wang Yi.
Beijing hardens stance
On Tuesday, Wenbin was quoted by PTI as saying, "China has not recognised the Union Territory of Ladakh illegally set up by the Indian side.”
He said this in response to a question by a journalist on India prioritising construction of high altitude road network on its border with China in the Ladakh region.
"We are opposed to conducting infrastructure development for military purposes in the border area. Based on the two sides' consensus, no side should engage in the border areas in any activities that might complicate the situation to avoid undermining efforts by the two sides to ease the situation,” Wang said.
China had first expressed its opposition to India’s move to create a separate Union Territory of Ladakh just a day after the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is significant to note that the then external affairs ministry spokesperson had said that India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise.
On Tuesday, Wang also responded to another question on reports that China has carried out massive development of border infrastructure. He said reports released by “some institutions” stating that China has built new military bases on its side are “completely false”.
"China consistently and strictly abides by the agreements signed with the Indian side. We are committed to maintaining peace and stability along the border with India and at the same time, we firmly safeguard our sovereignty, territorial integrity and security”, he added.
China's belligerent statements on Tuesday were not limited only to the ongoing border standoff. The spokesperson also criticised the forthcoming meeting of the foreign ministers of India, Australia, Japan and the US in Tokyo, saying it is opposed to the formation of "exclusive clique" harming third party interests.
"Multilateral and plurilateral cooperation should be open, inclusive and transparent. No one should seek an exclusive clique," Wang said.
"Efforts should be made to enhance regional countries' mutual understanding and trust, instead of targeting a third party or harming third party’s interests," he said.
Talks during SCO summit
China's wide-ranging statements on Tuesday do very little to encourage hopes of the border standoff winding down in the near future. This is despite the joint statement between Jaishankar and Wang Yi noting that the "the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side."
During the meet, India and China had broadly agreed on a five-point policy aimed at dialing down tensions. In particular, the agreement stated, "The two Ministers agreed that both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters."
An article in The Wire quoted defence sources as saying that a major takeaway was that China gave a written committment which can be referred to in future negotiations. The sources, however, noted that most of the principles that were laid down were open-ended, which would make it difficult to pin China down on an exact wording.
Indeed, with India and China having different perceptions of the LAC, statements on Ladakh such as the one quoted above are only to be expected. China has also objected to the construction of border multiple times in the past, and these objections are reported to have been among the reasons for the clashes in the Galwan Valley. However, such statements coming so soon after the joint statement between Jaishankar and Wang Yi is a matter of concern.
Indeed, Beijing's attempts to oppose border infrastructure have met with a prompt rebuttal from the Indian side, which categorically rejected China's "so-called unilaterally defined" Line of Actual Control(LAC) of 1959.
Outlook for future
Despite China's statements on Tuesday, there have been some tangible progress through talks between the two countries. On 21 September, after marathon 14-hour talks at the Corps Commander level, both sides released a joint statement saying the two countries have decided to stop sending more troops to the frontline in eastern Ladakh.
Meanwhile, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said on Tuesday that the present security scenario along our northern frontiers is at an uneasy "no war no peace" status.
With diplomatic efforts to resolve the LAC continuing, one hopes that the meet between Jaishankar and Wang Yi does not turn out to be an isolated instance of amiability.
With inputs from PTI
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