Script: Dr. RUPA NARAYAN DAS, Strategic Analyst on China
After lying low in the wake of the stand-off between the Indian and Chinese armies in the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh sector of the India-China border in May last year, there are some overtures from China to mend the relations between the two countries. A telephonic conversation took place, at the behest of China, between India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar and State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi last week. China conveyed her sympathy and solidarity with India at a time when India is fighting the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic. External Minister Dr S. Jaishankar thanked Mr. Wang Yi for his sentiments and apprised him of the ongoing efforts to meet the challenges posed by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
He said that the government was fully determined to do whatever was necessary to overcome the challenge. Dr. Jaishankar highlighted that Indian entities were already in the process of commercially procuring required products and raw materials from suppliers in China. He articulated that this would be facilitated if various transport corridors and cargo flights remained open and the necessary logistic support ensured expeditiously.
The External Affairs Minister’s observations attracted traction in the light of media reports that the state-run Sichuan Airlines, which operates cargo flights to India had suspended its operations causing disruption of procuring oxygen concentrators by private companies. Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla last week said that there was an impact on some of the supplies following the suspension of flights by Cinas’s Sichuan Airlines. The airlines, however, claimed, that it was working out a new plan to resume services.
Dr Jaishankar in his conversation with his Chinese counterpart emphasised that serious challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic which had affected all the countries required international cooperation. Wang Yi said China would ensure that all required materials flow to Indian entities without any delay and that airports, customs and airlines would also be instructed to smoothly facilitate the movement of goods. He also said that charted flights from India would be welcome and specific problems raised by the Indian side sorted out quickly.
The two foreign ministers also discussed the outstanding issues relating to all friction points along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh. Dr Jaishankar conveyed that while the process of disengagement had commenced earlier this year, it remained unfinished. He emphasised that it was necessary that this be completed at the earliest and that full restoration of peace and tranquillity in the India-China border would enable progress in the bilateral relationship. India and China had reached a 5-point agreement to resolve the Eastern Ladakh border row during talks between the two foreign ministers in September last year on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Russia.
Both Ministers also discussed the forthcoming BRICS and Russia-India-China(RIC) meeting of foreign ministers under India’s chairmanship. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang confirmed his participation at the event.
In yet another related development, China’s President Xi Jinping on last Friday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering China’s support to India in dealing with the pandemic which has resulted in the loss of human life and suffering. Although the two leaders have shared virtual platforms in recent such as the BRICS Conference held under the Russian Presidency last year, it is for the first time the Chinese President wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi in recent past. President Xi wrote, “I am very concerned about the recent situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, I would like to express sincere sympathies to the Indian government and people.”
Observers of India-China relations feel that these goodwill gestures and intents from China should be matched with actions on the ground. A climate of genuine trust and equal reciprocity is absolutely critical to carry forward the relationship between the two countries.