Two days ahead of his trip to Moscow where he is likely to hold discussions on the border stand-off with China’s Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on 7 September laid down the broad contours of the upcoming bilateral conversation by underlining that “the state of the border cannot be delinked from the state of the relationship.”
Acknowledging that the current situation along the Line of Actual Control was “very serious,” Jaishankar said that it called for “very, very deep conversations” between the two sides at a “political level”.
Jaishankar is going to Moscow to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers’ meeting between 9 to 11 September, where he is likely to have his first in-person meeting with his Chinese counterpart since the standoff began early May.
He said that “if peace and tranquillity on the border is not a given, then it cannot be that the rest of the relationship continues on the same basis”.
“If you look at the last 30 years, because there was peace and tranquillity on the border — there were problems also…I am not disregarding that — that allowed the rest of the relationship to progress. As a result, China became (India’s) second largest trading partner…Clearly peace and tranquillity is the basis for the relationship.”
There are several understandings with China on border management which go back to 1993, he said, and these “fairly clearly stipulate” that both countries will keep forces at the minimum level at the border.
“And the subsequent agreements we had, they shape the behaviour of troops, and what are the restrains which should be on them. If these are not observed, then it raises very, very important questions. At this moment, I note that this very serious situation has been going on since the beginning of May. This calls for very, very deep conversations between the two sides at a political level.”
He said he would leave it “open-ended” and both countries “must try to find mutual accommodation, because their ability to do that will determine (if there’s) an Asian century or not”.
Jaishankar’s much-awaited new book, The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World (Harper Collins India), was released last weekend.
Regarding India’s relationship with the United States, the foreign minister, who has served as India’s ambassador to both China and to the US called the “suspicion of America a very Lutyens’ Delhi problem” and added that “the Indian street actually realised the value of the American relationship much earlier than Lutyens’ Delhi did”.
India, he said, has “engaged successive American Presidents who had different worldviews, different priorities, with a focus on how to take the relationship and our national interests forward”.
“We have to look at what was happening in United States from the perspective of our interests… If there is the administration of the day, I have engaged that administration, I have engaged that administration much better than most of the world did. I have advanced Indian national interests.”
On not engaging with Pakistan, or using “zero diplomacy” as a tool, the Foreign Minister said that it is “not a question of zero-diplomacy”. He explained, that “I have a core interest, I have a problem and therefore I am not engaging”.
The issue, he said, is about “who is setting the terms of the engagement, what are the terms of engagement, what is the framework of engagement” and “what is the kind of conversation, who will determine who is making a move to shape the agenda, determine the agenda in a way.”
“For any country, and that too a country like India, to forego that option… I don’t think that’s the foreign policy we should have.”
Talking specifically about Pakistan, Jaishankar said that India cannot continue to engage because of their “attachment to cross border-terrorism all these years” and it cannot be accepted as a “normal and engage with them on the terms they have set”.
On Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who recently stepped down due to health reasons, Jaishankar referred to his stint as an “era” and said that it had “extraordinary” significance for Japan’s relationship with India. Jaishankar said that not only did Abe change the relationship for India but even how the Japanese think about the relationship with India.
Among those who attended the Adda and interacted with Jaishankar were Russian Ambassador Nikolay Kudasev, acting British High Commissioner Jan Thompson; European Union Ambassador Ugo Astuto, Italian Ambassador Vincenzo de Luca; economist and former Minister Y K Alagh and Manjeet Kripalani of Gateway House.
Jaishankar is likely to visit Tehran during the transit to Moscow. This would be the second visit by a top Indian leader to Tehran within a span of a week. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stopped over in Iran while coming back from Moscow, and met his Iranian counterpart on 6 September.