Standing Up To Dragon

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FROM the looks of it, the meeting between the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart General Wei didn’t take place in a cordial atmosphere. And both sides also restrained from creating any false expectations. In fact, the tone of the statements issued by both the sides was terse, even while mindful of the urgent need to pull back from the brink. In first remarks after the meeting, India on Saturday said that Singh told the Chinese to “work with the Indian side for complete disengagement at the earliest from all friction areas including Pangong Lake as well as de-escalation in border areas in accordance with the bilateral agreements and protocols”.

Singh was also quoted to have said by the Ministry of Defence that “the current situation should be handled responsibly” and “neither side should take any further action that could either complicate the situation or escalate matters in the border areas”.

The Chinese statement, on the other hand, said the “cause and truth of the current tension on the border between China and India are very clear, and the responsibility lies entirely with India”. Wei, according to the Chinese statement has told Singh that “China’s territory cannot be lost. The Chinese military is fully determined, capable, and confident to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity” .

There has been a matching reply from Singh who has told clearly to Wei that “while the Indian troops had always taken a very responsible approach towards border management, at the same time there should also be no doubt about our determination to protect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

If anything, the statements give no inkling that the two sides are anywhere close to an understanding on the issue. As things stand, both sides are ready for a long haul. But the situation can quickly change if there is a miscalculation or two from the either side. Already with multiple Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control, the situation has become fraught. Beijing is no mood to withdraw. Several rounds of talks between the two countries have not helped to break the ice. Now with India in response also pre-emptively capturing some heights at Pangong Tso, we have gone one more step up on the escalators ladder.

The only way to pull back from the brink is to seriously engage in dialogue and find a way out as already made clear by the foreign minister S Jaishankar. A war between two Asian giants will be disastrous for not only for them but for the entire region. More so, at a time when both the countries and the world is grappling with Coronavirus pandemic that has brought the world economy to a standstill. And India with its GDP having already contracted by a fourth has turned out to be the worst affected by the contagion.

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