‘Finding equilibrium in ties a test for both India, China’

One of the biggest challenges for both India and China will be to arrive at an equilibrium and then maintain it, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Friday against the backdrop of the dragging standoff between the two sides on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during a panel discussion on reforming global order, new architectures, India-China relations, Russia, Africa and cricket at the Raisina Dialogue 2024, in New Delhi, on Friday. (PTI)

Instead of getting caught up in “mind games” that this is an issue between just the two countries, India should be confident to “leverage” the international system to find the best possible outcome, Jaishankar said while participating in a session at the Raisina Dialogue, India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics.

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Jaishankar also mounted a strong defence of Russia, a close strategic partner of India, in response to a question from a panellist on whether Russia was becoming a junior partner of China because of its isolation since the invasion of Ukraine. Russia, with its tradition of statecraft, would never put itself into a “single relationship of an overwhelming nature”, the foreign minister said.

He reiterated that the immediate issue between India and China was Beijing’s decision to make a departure from border agreements put in place in the late 1980s, in terms of “how they behaved on the border and there’s a pushback from our side”. He was referring to the military face-off in Ladakh sector of the LAC that began almost four years ago.

“I think… arriving at equilibriums, then maintaining [and] refreshing those, is going to be the one of the biggest challenges for both countries. It’s not going to be easy,” Jaishankar said. Pointing to the possibility of “mind games” suggesting that this is an issue only between India and China, he said there are other factors to be harnessed to get “better terms on an equilibrium”.

Without going in for solutions that give a competitive country a veto over India’s policy choices, New Delhi should be “confident enough to leverage the international system to create the best possible outcome”, he added.

India and China have arrayed about 60,000 troops each in Ladakh sector since the LAC standoff began in May 2020. The Indian side has insisted that bilateral ties cannot be normalised till there is peace and tranquillity along the LAC.

Jaishankar also sought to question the position adopted by the West against Russia, and in the context of Russia-China relations, said: “On the one hand, you have people whose sets of policies bring the two together and then you say, beware of them coming together.”

Need to engage RussiaRussia is turning more to Asia or other parts of the world because a lot of doors have been shut to it in the West. “It’s makes sense to give Russia multiple options. If we railroad Russia into a single option and say that’s really bad, because that’s the outcome, then you are making it a kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.

It is important for other countries, especially in Asia, to engage Russia, a “power with an enormous tradition of statecraft” that would never put itself into a “single relationship of an overwhelming nature”, he added.

Jaishankar responded to a question about the need to reform world bodies such as the UN by saying there has been some progress with the emergence of different models to make changes. After considering these models, the world community will have to decide on the next step, which is still not clear. The expansion of the G20 through the inclusion of the African Union should serve as a lesson to the UN about the need to enlarge the permanent membership of the Security Council, he said.

Besides India’s G20 presidency that displayed its leadership abilities to a globalised society, the country has also emerged as the first responder during incidents occurring in the region between East Africa and Australia, Jaishankar said.

At a time of intense competition between China and the US, countries such as India that aren’t “embedded in a pre-existing structure” are both expanding options but trying to forge something common with other like-minded states, he said. “A lot of countries will now try to have multiple options and even as they do that, they will form combinations of their own,” he added.

Jaishankar participated in the session along with representatives of think tanks from Australia, Nigeria, the UK and the US.

“India has never publicly criticised Russia’s actions in Ukraine and it ramped up the purchase of discounted Russian crude despite initial pressure from the West. While India never voted in favour of several resolutions on Ukraine at UN bodies, it has repeatedly called for an end to the conflict and a return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy,” said Sameer Patil, a Mumbai-based security analyst, adding that Jaishankar;s remarks were an acknowledgement of the fact that the constant pushback on Russia by the West will only draw it closer to China, which will complicate India’s options.

“On the other hand, Jaishankar’s comments on China are a recognition that India-China relations are headed for a long period of freeze, which is only going to further harden India’s approach,” he said.

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