Foreign minister S Jaishankar emphasised to China on Monday India’s decision to revoke Article 370 was an internal matter and did not impact border negotiations with either China or Pakistan.
In his first official talks with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, Jaishankar also cautioned him that the “future of India-China relatIonship will depend on mutual sensitivity to each other’s core concerns … Properly managing differences is therefore vital.” In a sign of how seriously India takes this approach, Jaishankar repeated these lines in his address at the China-India Media Forum today.
Speaking to journalists at the end of the forum, Wang Yi said the talks were “in-depth” stressing the importance of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries. He added they were “candid” about their differences with India. “We repeated our concerns regarding the tensions between India and Pakistan.” Wang Yi’s comments came even as protests in Hong Kong erupted in violence increasing pressure on the Chinese government in Beijing to act. Many expect China to crack down on the protesters which is certain to invite a spate of international criticism.
Jaishankar explained to Wang Yi that Article 370 was a temporary provision in the Indian Constitution “and was sole prerogative” of India. “The legislative measures were aimed at promoting better governance and socio-economic development. There was no implication for either the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. India was not raising any additional territorial claims.”
Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was in Beijing a few days ago, following which the Chinese foreign ministry had said the Kashmir issue should be “settled” according to the UN Charter and the 1948 resolution, which raised alarm bells among observers. But this did not figure in the conversation, Jaishankar said. A statement issued late on Monday said Jaishankar had told Wang “where India-Pakistan relations are concerned, Chinese side should base its assessment on realities. India, as a responsible power, had shown restraint in the face of provocative Pakistani rhetoric and actions. India has always stood for normalisation of ties in an atmosphere free of terror.”
Wang Yi pushed India on the Kashmir issue, and not merely because of Pakistan. China objected to India converting Ladakh into a separate Union territory accusing India of messing around with its own border negotiations with India – China was illegally ceded Aksai Chin, adjoining Ladakh by Pakistan in 1963. Alarm bells rang in Beijing after home minister Amit Shah declared in Parliament that by Kashmir, he meant PoK and Aksai Chin as well. Jaishankar also weighed in on the boundary question reminding Wang that the two sided “had agreed to a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement..” In his remarks at the media forum, Wang Yi hoped the two countries could reap an “early harvest” on the boundary talks. Wang Yi is also the Chinese special representative for boundary talks with NSA Ajit Doval but both sides are yet to meet this year.
The two foreign ministers kicked off what Jaishankar called a “detailed” conversation this morning, following a meeting between him and Wang Qishan, the vice president. This week, Beijing is remarkably thin of the Chinese leadership, most of whom are away for their annual retreat in the beach town of Beidahe.
The bulk of the conversation was a preparation for the second informal summit between Modi and Xi reportedly scheduled for October in Varanasi.
China offered to expand access to the Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra for Indian pilgrims, which was one of the new ideas put forward by the Chinese side at the talks today.
There is no doubt that there remain serious differences between India and China post the Indian reorganisation of Kashmir into two Union territories.
In his opening remarks before the talks this morning, Jaishankar said, “India-China relationship has a unique place in global politics. Two years ago, our leaders recognised that reality and reached a consensus in Astana that at a time of global uncertainty India-China relationship should be a factor of stability.”
Wang’s opening remarks reflected the Chinese concerns, “When it comes to the regional tensions between India and Pakistan and possible ramifications we follow these developments very closely. We hope that India would also play a constructive role for regional peace and stability.”
In other decisions, India and China are looking at doing some 100 joint activities in the 70th anniversary celebrations, including a documentary on the pilgrims, as well as setting up a joint medical team to retrace the steps of Dr Kotnis, and work in the remote areas of both countries.