India-China border faceoff: ‘Inflexion point in ties, time for Delhi to make policy reappraisal’

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Written by Amitabh Sinha | Pune | Published: June 18, 2020 1:50:46 am

china border, china clash, china war, Gautam Bambawale on china, china border, china border dispute, galwan valley, pangong tso, ladakh, china, china lac, india china Gautam Bambawale, former India ambassador to Beijing. (File photo)

Describing Monday night’s incident as an ‘inflexion point’ in India-China relations, Gautam Bambawale, India’s former ambassador to Beijing, said it was time for New Delhi to make a “deep reappraisal” of its policy towards China, because the old template that has been defining their relationship for the last 30 years was “no longer working”.

“The current paradigm of India-China relationship was set in December 1988 during then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China. The key thing of that template was that while we continue our efforts to find a resolution of the boundary dispute, while ensuring peace on the border, the interactions and exchanges in other fields must proceed forward. After that there have been several agreements and understandings, in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2013 and several others. The world has changed in the meanwhile, the two countries have changed, but our relationship has continued to be defined within that template. I think this particular incident should change that,” Bambawale, who served as India’s ambassador in Beijing between November 2018 and December 2018, told The Indian Express.

“This incident, in my view, is an inflexion point in the India- China relationship. Because, as our External Affairs Minister has also pointed out, it was premeditated from the Chinese side… I believe India now needs to make a deep reappraisal of its policy towards China, because the old template no longer seems to be working,” he said.

He said an important part of the conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in their recent interactions, including in Wuhan and Mamallapuram, was about redefining that template.

“Those interactions and summit meetings were an attempt in finding a new template, a new paradigm under which the India China relationship can be conducted. Unfortunately, that is still a work in progress, because of several difficulties, and competition between the two countries,” he said.

Bambawale said the government must evolve a domestic consensus on a new China policy, but it needed to be done quickly, in “finite time”.

“The government will obviously need to take a lead, but I believe the new policy must be based on a domestic consensus, for which political parties of all spectrum, and other stakeholders like diplomats, military leaders, academics and analysts must also be consulted. It would require extensive consultations but it is also important that we move on this quickly. This needs to evolve within a finite time,” he said.

But the important thing, he said, was not to go back to the post-1962 position after which the two countries had been maintaining that there could be no improvement in bilateral ties till the boundary dispute was resolved.

“That position is also untenable now. We cannot go back in time. So, while we cannot allow business as usual to continue after the Galwan incident, we must not say we will not talk with China till our boundary dispute is settled. I would say we need to talk more rather than less. But a redefinition of relationship has to happen, and I am sure there are lots of good ideas about how this can happen, or what shape it must take,” he said.

Bambawale said while there could be several triggers for China’s action on the border on Monday night, the primary motivation seemed to be the desire to take possession of the border as Beijing perceives it, regardless of India’s position.

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