India's relationship with China is right now going through a "very difficult phase" after Beijing violated agreements not to bring the military forces in the border, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said, emphasising that the "state of the border will determine the state of the relationship".
Speaking at a panel discussion on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) 2022 here, Jaishankar said that India was having a problem with China along the Line of Actual Control.
"For 45 years, there was peace, there was stable border management, there were no military casualties on the border from 1975. That changed because we had agreements with China not to bring military forces to the border (the Line of Actual Control or LAC) and the Chinese violated those agreements,” the minister said in response to a question from moderator Lynn Kuok.
"Now, the state of the border will determine the state of the relationship. That’s natural. So obviously, the relations with China right now are going through a very difficult phase,” he added.
The eastern Ladakh border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted 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.
The tension escalated following a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020.
Jaishankar, who was in Melbourne last week, had said that the situation at the LAC has arisen due to the disregard of written agreements by China in 2020 not to mass soldiers at the border and noted that Beijing's actions have become an issue of "legitimate concern" for the entire international community.
"When a large country disregards written commitments, I think it's an issue of legitimate concern for the entire international community," he had said in response to a question during a joint press conference with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne in Melbourne.
Jaishankar participated in the panel discussion on the Indo-Pacific at the MSC which is aimed at extensively deliberating on the escalating tension between the NATO countries and Russia over Ukraine.
The panel included Australian Foreign Minister Payne, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, US Chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation Jeanne Shaheen and Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian.
When moderator Lynn Kuok asked how India is contributing to European security and compared the Ukraine crisis with the situation in the Indo-Pacific, Jaishankar said, “Well, I don't think the situations in the Indo Pacific and the transatlantic are really analogous.”
"Certainly, the assumption in your question that somehow there is a trade-off and one country does this in the Pacific so in return you do something else, I don’t think that’s the way international relations work.
"We have quite distinct challenges, what is happening here or what is happening in the Indo-Pacific. In fact, if there was a connection by that logic, you would have had a lot of European powers already taking very sharp positions in the Indo-Pacific. We didn’t see that. We haven’t seen that since 2009,” Jaishankar said, amidst an aggressive China flexing its muscles in the region.
China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
Beijing is also involved in a maritime dispute with Japan over the East China Sea. Both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.
On connectivity, Jaishankar said it should be transparent and commercially based. It should not create debt and it should not violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries, he added, amid international concern over China’s debt trap policy.
"I think in the last six years, the world has woken up to the concerns about connectivity. The fact that often connectivity initiatives have hidden agendas or not so hidden agendas, that there's dual purpose connectivity,” he said.
"If connectivity initiatives are based on similar outlooks... it's natural that you would congregate, that you would synergise, that you would see how does it work for each other. So we would certainly encourage, you know, countries whose connectivity principles and policies are similar,” he added.
China’s takeover of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port on 99 years’ lease for USD 1.2 billion debt swap drew international concerns over Beijing acquiring strategic assets far away from home by providing heavy loans and investment to smaller nations.
India has protested to China over USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor connecting China’s Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port as it is being laid through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
On Quad, Jaishankar dismissed the notion that the four-member grouping is an Asian NATO as “completely misleading term” and said “there are interested parties who advance that kind of analogies.”
He described Quad as a grouping of "four countries who have common interest, common values, a great deal of comfort, who happen to be located in the four corners of the Indo-Pacific.”
"It's not post-2020 development. Our relations with the Quad partners - the US, Japan and Australia - have steadily improved in the last 20 years. The Quad has a value in itself. It is four countries who recognise today that the world would be a better place if they cooperated. And that's essentially what's happening,” Jaishankar added.
In November 2017, India, Japan, the US and Australia gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the Quad to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence, amidst China's growing military presence in the region.