India-China ties have been “very significantly damaged” and are passing through their most difficult phase ever because of Beijing’s violation of agreements on maintaining peace and tranquillity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday.
The Chinese side has given “five differing explanations” for violating the agreements by bringing tens of thousands of soldiers to the LAC in Ladakh sector, a development that has “profoundly disturbed” the relationship, he said in an online conversation with the Australian think tank Lowy Institute.
With the India-China border standoff in its eighth month, Jaishankar made it clear that extensive contacts between the two sides at different levels had so far failed to address the basic issue that “agreements are not being observed”.
“We are today probably at the most difficult phase of our relationship with China, certainly in the last 30 to 40 years…or even more,” he said, noting that the 20 Indian soldiers killed in the clash at Galwan Valley in June were the first military casualties on the LAC since 1975.
The relationship has been “very significantly damaged” because all positive developments in bilateral ties over the past 30 years, including China becoming India’s second largest trade partner and engagements in tourism and travel, were based on that fact that the two sides had agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity in border areas while trying to solve the boundary question, Jaishankar said.
Pointing to multiple agreements since 1993 that committed both parties not to bring large forces to the LAC, he said, “Now for some reason, for which the Chinese have to date given us five differing explanations, the Chinese have violated it.
“The Chinese have literally brought tens of thousands of soldiers in full military preparation mode right to the LAC in Ladakh. Naturally the relationship would be profoundly disturbed by this.”
While there were arguments and face-offs between troops in the past, there had never been a major breach of understanding, he said. With the soldiers of the two sides very close to each other this year, it was “not entirely surprising that something went horribly wrong”, he added in a reference to the Galwan Valley clash that resulted in 20 Indian casualties and “completely changed national sentiment”.
Getting the relationship back on track is now a “very big issue”, though communications between the two sides weren’t an issue, Jaishankar said. He said he had personally spoken on phone with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and met in on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Moscow, while there were also meetings and contacts between the defence ministers, military commanders and diplomats.
“Communication is not the issue, the issue is the fact that we have agreements and those agreements are not being observed,” he added.