Jaishankar to take part in China-Russia trilateral amidst LAC tensions

Jaishankar to take part in China-Russia trilateral amidst LAC tensions

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will take part in the Russia-India-China trilateral on Tuesday, in an indicator that New Delhi is prepared to press on with diplomatic moves with China despite last Monday’s clashes between Indian and Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.

The meeting that will be held via video conference around 1.30 p.m. will include Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and will be hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The three leaders were originally scheduled to meet on March 22 in Sochi, but the annual meeting had to be put off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RIC meeting coincides with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Moscow to attend Russia’s Victory Day parade, and for high-level meetings. Indian and Chinese militaries have both sent contingents for the parade, but officials ruled out a meeting between Mr. Singh and any Chinese official in Moscow.

No bilateral issues

Officials in Moscow and Delhi have also underlined that “no bilateral issues” would be discussed during the video conference.

“The three ministers are expected to discuss the current situation of the global pandemic and the challenges of global security, financial stability and RIC cooperation in that context. This is going to be a trilateral meeting,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, when asked last Thursday.

However, the fact that the meeting is going ahead, despite heightened tensions at the LAC, is being seen as an indicator that the government is willing to put aside the bilateral issues with China for the moment. A push behind the scenes from Russia is also understood to have ensured that the meeting, which is being convened as a special session of the RIC grouping to “commemorate the 75th anniversary of the victory in the second world war over Nazism and creation of the United Nations”, is going ahead. In past conflicts with China, including during the standoffs on Depsang plains in 2013, and at the Doklam plateau in 2017, high-level meetings had only taken place after the situation at the LAC had been fully resolved.

According to experts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on Friday, denying there had been any transgressions by Chinese troops on Indian territory leads to speculation that India is now looking at diplomatic options to resolve the current crisis.

Subsequent statements by the Prime Minister’s Office and the MEA on Saturday have also underlined that there were “attempted transgressions” by Chinese troops which were rebuffed by Indian soldiers, indicating that the government is saying there are no Chinese transgressions in Eastern Ladakh at present.

Realistic option

“If one reads the Prime Minister right, [his statement on Friday] was a weighing of options and electing to be realistic, treading with caution and reining in some of the rhetoric at least,” former Foreign Secretary and former Ambassador to China Nirupama Rao told The Hindu.

While that may subdue hostilities during the External Affairs Minister’s parley with Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers, and for the duration of the Defence Minister’s Moscow visit, it remains to be seen whether the situation at the LAC will continue to hold, where the Indian and Chinese troops remain in a tense standoff at at least five points, including at the Pangong Tso (lake).

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