China on Sunday again blamed India for the border friction in eastern Ladakh but couched its anti-India rhetoric by saying New Delhi and Beijing are friends and partners, not rivals.
Addressing his annual press conference, state councillor and foreign minister, Wang Yi first said India and China should not undercut or be suspicious of each other but went on to add that the rights and wrongs of what happened at the border last year were clear, tactfully putting the blame on India for the worst military standoff between the two countries in decades.
The Chinese diplomat did acknowledge that it was on both countries to jointly maintain peace and tranquility along the border.
“The right and wrongs of what happened in the border area last year are clear, so are the stakes involved. It again proves that initiating confrontation will not solve the problem. Returning to peaceful negotiation is the right way forward,” Wang said during his press interaction with foreign and local journalists on the sidelines of the ongoing session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
“China’s position is very clear. We are committed to settling the boundary dispute through dialogue and consultation. At the same time, we are resolved to safeguard our sovereign rights and interests,” he said.
India has consistently denied China’s allegation of provoking friction along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh and have said that Chinese border troops were the first to trespass across the disputed boundary, triggering the faceoff and deaths of border troops on both sides.
“It falls on both sides to solidify existing consensus, strengthen dialogue and communication, and improve various management mechanisms to jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area,” Wang added.
One of China’s top diplomats, Wang was responding to a question on the way ahead for Sino-India ties in the backdrop of the partial disengagement of border troops from near the Pangong lake.
The first part of Wang’s response gave the impression that China had softened its one-sided narrative against India.
“The China India relationship is essentially about how the world’s two largest developing countries get along and pursue development and rejuvenation together,” he said, adding that the two countries have “broad common interests and tremendous potential for cooperation”.
“On many important issues, our positions are the same or close due to similar national realities. Therefore, China and India are each other’s friends and partners, not threats, or rivals. The two sides need to help each other succeed instead of undercutting each other. We should intensify cooperation instead of harbouring suspicions of each other,” Wang added.
Wang reiterated the point he made to external affairs minister, S Jaishankar during a phone conversation last week that the border dispute is not the entirety of Sino-India ties.
“The boundary dispute, an issue left from history, is not the whole story of the China-India relationship. It is important that two sides manage disputes properly and at the same time expand and enhance cooperation to create enabling conditions for the settlement of the issue.”
New Delhi has made it clear to Beijing – as recently as on Friday — that the way to improve bilateral ties only lies through peace and tranquility at the border and the road to normalcy lies only through disengagement and de-escalation all along the LAC.
During the phone call with Jaishankar, while Wang had suggested the two sides should set aside the border issue, the Indian minister had insisted bilateral ties could be repaired only by completing disengagement at all friction points.
For the year ahead, Wang said: “…we hope India will work with China to truly deliver on important common understanding reached by our leaders that both are not threats to each other but opportunities for each other’s development.
Together we can bring great benefits for 2.7 billion people in China and India and make great contributions for the advent of the Asian Century.
During his lengthy – and choreographed – press conference, Wang answered about 25 questions on topics ranging from China’s ties with the US, Russia and Asean, electoral reforms in Hong Kong and the situation in Myanmar