Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in September 2022 at Samarkand, Uzbekistan resulted in China accepting withdrawal from Gorga-Hot Spring Area (PP-15) on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Eastern Ladakh in run up to this event wherein withdrawal had commenced on September 8, 2022 and was completed on September 12, 2022. This was the last point of transgression resolved between the two countries. Two major transgressions by Chinese are still unresolved in the areas of Depsang and Demchok.
Though the discussions at all levels have continued since then, there has been no movement forward on the resolution of pending transgressions. In such a situation when SCO related events were scheduled in India as India is currently holding the SCO presidency, the hopes got raised again in the run up to these events. Some kind of replay was expected.
The first time when expectations got raised was during the 18th round of Corps Commander Level (CCL) meet held on Moldo-Chushal border meeting point on April 23, 2023. Surprisingly, nothing was announced after the conclusion of the event. The optimists kept believing that something substantial would have been agreed upon which might be announced during the bilateral meet between Defence Ministers of both the countries on April 27, 2023. The meeting did happen, but no agreement was reached as both sides maintained their respective stance. India reiterated that China must revert to pre-April-May 2020 positions and the dialogue process must move forward within the agreements already existing between both the countries. India also categorically stated that the relations cannot be ‘normal’ unless peace and tranquility is restored on the borders (LAC). China was not in consonance with the Indian stance. It now maintains that the border situation is already ‘normal’ and that it must be kept in its proper place and mutual relations must be normalised. This argument of China has been emanating from the Chinese belief that the Indian state can be convinced for better mutual relationship despite adversarial situations on the border. This is so because we not only accepted our relationship as normal despite China inflicting a huge embarrassment on us in the 1962 war and keeping large territory of Aksai chin under its physical control, but China also succeeded in enhancing the trade relationship to unparalleled level, that too despite being favourable to India relatively.
Since relations between the countries are primarily in the domain of foreign ministers as against the Defence ministers, a new ray of hope appeared on the horizon as bilateral meet was scheduled and conducted between Indian and Chinese foreign ministers on May 4, 2023 on the sidelines of SCO foreign ministers meet held in Goa. This hope was shattered as the Chinese foreign minister also stuck to the same stance of his country which is being advanced on a regular basis more so after resolution of PP- 15 in Sep 2022. It will be worthwhile to examine as to what could be the likely reasons for the current behaviour of Chinese foreign minister during the recently concluded bilateral meet in Goa on May 4, 2023:
It was clear during the bilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of India and China that the Chinese FM had come with a pre-fixed brief as was the case in the meeting of the Defence Ministers of both the countries. Resolution, if any, will take place only if Xi Jinping changes his stance and becomes more accommodative to the Indian concerns. Changes in his decisions will not be based on ‘short term’ vision as they have always looked at their national interest from the ‘long term’ perspective. The geopolitical development will also have an impact in the resolution of this ‘standoff’ but only if it is ‘Disadvantage China’. The forthcoming visit of the Chinese President for the SCO summit meeting in the first week of July 2023 is another opportunity wherein a constructive engagement can take place between PM Modi and Premier Xi Jinping to revert to the status quo or agreed resolution acceptable to both the sides.
The bilateral meeting in Goa of foreign ministers resulted in Chinese FM making a statement that the countries must learn a lesson from history. Hope, China is not stuck up in 1962 memories as there are episodes of 1967,1987 and 2017 as well which are also part of the history. The Goa chapter has been a huge disappointment as far as bilateral issues are concerned, but having expected some positive outcome was also a myth-based hope.
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