External affairs minister S. Jaishankar is set to meet his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on Wednesday in a multilateral setting during a conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers in the thick of another escalation of tensions along the border that China has called a “serious military provocation”.
A separate bilateral meeting was being talked about in diplomatic circles even prior to Monday’s developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) when Chinese troops fired a few rounds in the air during an attempt to close in on one of India’s forward positions but there has been no official announcement on this yet.
This will be the first time the two foreign ministers will come face-to-face after the Chinese incursions began early this summer. They engaged virtually once during the ongoing face-off in June at the Russia-India-China trilateral meeting hosted by Moscow, and spoke to each other after the Galwan clash in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese personnel died.
If the meeting between Jaishankar and Wang materialises, it will be the second such engagement between the political leaderships of the two countries in less than a week. Earlier on Friday, defence minister Rajnath Singh and his counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe had met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Moscow. Nothing much came out of that session, as is evident from Monday’s developments.
India and China have accused each other of once again disrupting the fragile peace that has held along the LAC since the June 15 Galwan clash.
While India on record said “it is the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) that has been blatantly violating agreements and carrying out aggressive manoeuvres while engagement at military, diplomatic and political level is in progress”, China accused Indian troops of crossing the LAC and firing warning shots.
“Indian troops illegally trespassed via the southern bank of Pangong Tso on the western section of the China-India border on September 7,” said Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the Chinese PLA.
“The Indian troops brazenly made gunshot threat to the patrolling Chinese border guards who came forward for negotiations, and the Chinese border guards were forced to take countermeasures to stabilise the situation on the ground,” a translation of Zhang’s statement issued by the Chinese embassy in New Delhi said.
The embassy further quoted Zhang as saying India’s move was a grave military provocation. “The flagrant act grossly violated the agreements previously reached between the two sides, and further escalated regional tensions, which can easily lead to misunderstandings and misjudgments,” it said.
“We demand the Indian side to immediately stop dangerous actions, withdraw cross-line troops right away, strictly restrain its frontline troops, earnestly investigate and punish the personnel who fired shots, and guarantee against the occurrence of similar incidents,” Zhang said.
Later, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the Indian troops had “illegally crossed the line into the Shenpao Mountain region on the southern bank of the Pangong Lake in the western sector of the China-India border”, adding that their behaviour had heightened tensions and made the situation highly susceptible to misunderstanding and miscalculation. “This is a serious military provocation of an egregious nature.”
The Indian external affairs ministry did not comment on the latest developments and only shared a statement issued earlier by the army on the situation in eastern Ladakh.
Even at the meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on external affairs, foreign secretary Harsh V. Shringla is understood to have not said much on the China situation although members, including from the BJP, had several questions.
He reiterated India’s resolve to protect its territorial sovereignty but did not go into the specifics as China was in any case not on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting. Also, given the sensitive nature of the situation along the LAC, officials cannot be compelled to reveal details, Shringla is believed to have said.