NEW DELHI: A day after US President Donald Trump made an unsolicited offer to mediate, India made it clear there was no room for any third party in bilateral issues with China and stressed that it was “fully engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve the issue” of Chinese incursions in Ladakh.
Coming after Trump said the US had “informed” China that it was “ready, willing and able” to mediate to resolve tensions over the troop standoff in east Ladakh, the Indian statement was the closest to fobbing off the US president without referring directly to him.
“As conveyed last week, Indian troops take a very responsible approach towards border management and strictly follow the procedures laid out in various bilateral agreements and protocols with China to resolve any issue that may arise in the border areas. The two sides have established mechanisms both at military and diplomatic levels to resolve situations which may arise in border areas peacefully through dialogue and continue to remain engaged through these channels,” the ministry of external affairs said.
As it has done on earlier occasions, India said while it was committed to maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas with China, it remained firm in ensuring India’s sovereignty and national security, an indication that Army units in forward positions will not stand down unless Chinese intrusions across the Line of Actual Control are vacated. The MEA listed five agreements between India and China on maintaining peace along the border inked from 1993 onwards, with the latest in 2013, which even sets out procedures if troops come face to face.
As the situation on the ground remains a stalemate, both New Delhi and Beijing have ramped up diplomatic exchanges to push a de-escalation through the mechanisms referred to in the MEA statement. The Indian response has been consistent since last week, indicating that the government does not want to add to the rhetoric, which it believes gives it more space to negotiate off-line with the Chinese side.
After a couple of weeks of trademark aggressive rhetoric by some sections in China, the foreign ministry in Beijing also dialled down its own verbal aggression. Trump’s offer to mediate threw everybody off balance, but sources here said it may have unnerved Beijing much more. Before Trump’s tweet, the Ladakh face-off between India and China was a bilateral issue, that could be addressed locally. Now the international headlines put greater pressure on India and China to resolve the issue, it is felt.
India, inured to years of international offers of mediation with Pakistan, is clear on its position that bilateral is the way to go. But for China, this is a novel experience — to have its strategic opponent offer to mediate between it and a lesser power will not go down well in Beijing.
Trump’s tweet showed he hasn’t given up his belief that he can be an international player, mediating and resolving the world’s tough questions. This lay behind his several attempts to mediate between India and Pakistan. The India-China dispute is obviously more consequential.