Rajnath doesn’t shake hands with Chinese counterpart Li, signals chill in bilateral ties

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday made it categorically clear to China that there will simply be no improvement in the overall bilateral relationship till its troops disengage and de-escalate tensions in the three-year-old standoff in eastern Ladakh, while also summarily rejecting a new Chinese plan for resumption of military-to-military engagements in a sharp message to its larger neighbour.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh told his Chinese counterpart General Li Shangfu that China’s “violation of existing agreements has eroded the entire basis of bilateral relations”, and disengagement at the border needs to be logically followed by de-escalation, during their 55-minute delegation-level meeting here on Thursday evening.
A defence ministry statement said Singh “categorically” conveyed to General Li that the “development of relations” between the two countries “is premised on prevalence of peace and tranquillity at the borders”.
“He added that all issues at the Line of Actual Control need to be resolved in accordance with existing bilateral agreements and commitments,” the statement said.
The deep chill in bilateral relations was also evident when Singh did not shake hands with Gen Li, as he did with his other counterparts from Iran (Brigadier General Mohammed Reza Gharaei Ashtiani), Kazakhstan (Colonel General Ruslan Zhaksylykov) and Tajikistan (Colonel General Sherali Mirzo) in bilateral meetings with them ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet on Friday.
Sources said China presented a new proposal to re-start military-to-military cooperation just before the bilateral meeting but it was rejected with the message that it can only be considered if the situation at the border returns to normal.
India wants the sequential process of disengagement, de-escalation and de-induction of the over 50,000 troops each forward deployed by the two sides along the frontier in eastern Ladakh with heavy weapon systems.
“China was told that the situation at the border is untenable. India can consider the new proposal only after the festering border issue is resolved. India wants to improve relations with China but it can happen only after peace and tranquillity are restored on the border,” a source said.
This is the first visit by a Chinese defence minister to India since the People’s Liberation Army made multiple intrusions into eastern Ladakh in April-May 2020, which led to the bloody Galwan Valley clash in June that year and subsequent major nosedive in bilateral relations.
The meeting on Thursday comes soon after there was yet again no concrete breakthrough on the marathon 18th round of corps commander-level talks on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point last Sunday.
China has till now obdurately refused to undertake troop disengagement at the crucial face-offs at the strategically-located Depsang Plains as well as the Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction at Demchok in eastern Ladakh.
China has also upped the ante along the Sikkim-Arunachal Pradesh frontier, which resulted in the clash between the rival troops at Yangtse in the crucial Tawang sector on December 9.Earlier this month, it also “standardized” the names of 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh, which was summarily rejected by India.
Watch Defence Minister Rajnath Singh holds bilateral meeting with Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu

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