India-China relations at ‘most difficult phase in 30-40 years’

The two Asian giants have been deadlocked over the border in the Himalayan region of Ladakh since June this year.

Tensions between India and China have run high since June when at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent confrontation with Chinese troops [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]

New Delhi, India – Relations between India and China are at the “most difficult phase” in the last three to four decades, India’s external affairs minister has said, as the months-long impasse over the border in the Himalayan region of Ladakh continues.

Tensions between India and China have run high since June when at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent face-off with Chinese troops involving rocks and clubs.

China did not release the number of casualties on its side.

Both countries have accused each other of intruding across the loosely demarcated border, known as Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“We are today probably at the most difficult phase of our relationship with China, certainly in the last 30 to 40 years,” Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Wednesday during a virtual session by Australian think-tank the Lowy Institute.

“We could argue even more. The last time there were military casualties on our borders was in 1975, so just to give you a sense of a time there.”

Jaishankar said that since 1988, relations between India and China have had problems but were moving in a positive direction.

He said while the two countries were taking their time to solve the boundary question, there was an understanding that they will maintain “peace and tranquillity” along the border, saying the two countries had multiple agreements that ask both parties not to bring large forces to the boundary.

“Now for some reason, for which the Chinese have given us five different explanations, the Chinese have violated it,” he said. “The Chinese have literally brought tens of thousands of soldiers in full military preparation mode right up to the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. Naturally, the relationship would be profoundly disturbed by this,” he said.

Months-long tension

Thousands of troops from both sides have been locked in a confrontation, particularly in Ladakh, since minor skirmishes were earlier reported in late April.

Several rounds of talks have been held at the military and the diplomatic level but have failed to resolve the border standoff.

An Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) recruit stands guard at a checkpoint along a highway leading to Ladakh, at Gagangeer in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district [File: Danish Ismail/Reuters]

“Based on the implementation of current consensus, we will have consultations to determine specific arrangements for further talks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Tuesday.

Former Indian diplomat and foreign policy analyst, Phunchok Stobdan, told Al Jazeera that Jaishankar’s comments illustrate how the relationship between the two countries has been damaged and if China wants to move ahead, the border issue has to be resolved.

“What he [India’s external affairs minister] is trying to say is that everything is not normal. Unless the border issue is resolved, things cannot be normalised,” said Stobdan.

The minister’s comments are also clearly pointing to the fact that the relations are “indeed at a point of crisis”, according to Alka Acharya, Chinese studies professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for East Asian Studies.

Jaishankar has clearly expressed his “misgivings about the way in which the relationship has now come to a point of a very serious attention”, Acharya added.

“Although efforts are still going on things are looking very difficult,” she said, adding that a resolution will work “only when we will agree on each other’s strategic interests”.

Andy Mok, a senior research fellow at the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, told Al Jazeera: “China-India ties are indeed facing a challenging time but this is mainly caused by efforts to manipulate India into an alliance against China.”

“It would be unfortunate if it were beguiled into such a new strategic posture since this would negatively impact India as well as regional stability and prosperity. India has much more to gain by working with China and not against it.”

Source: Al Jazeera