This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan. India has been receiving a steady stream of foreign visitors since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Americans were here. The British are coming. The Israelis will follow. The list is pretty endless. And then there was the Chinese foreign minister on one of the most bizarre visits in recent history. It should have been a quiet visit. The first to Delhi by a senior Chinese leader since the clash in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh at the Line of Actual Control two years ago. 20 Indian soldiers and several Chinese soldiers were killed in that confrontation. Neither side announced the visit of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, which is highly unusual. But the secrecy was blown up by media reports and journalists tracking the Chinese foreign minister’s flight on apps like Flight radar. In the past two years, China and India have conducted 15 rounds of military-level talks, but have had little success.
China has brazenly invaded Indian territory and continues to occupy parts of it. There has been only some withdrawal, but today there are still about 50,000 troops on either side of the LAC. On the eve of his India trip, New Delhi strongly rebuked Wang Yi for comments he also made about Kashmir while attending an Organization of Islamic Conference meeting in Islamabad. In an unusually strong statement, India even said it will refrain from making public comments on China’s internal affairs. But Wang Yi flew to New Delhi anyway. And it begged the question – why? If China was serious about creating an environment conducive to better ties with India, these provocative statements would not have been made in the first place. More importantly, they should have come up with a serious proposal to withdraw their troops at the border. But they didn’t. India had made it clear a few days earlier that it cannot be business as usual with Beijing until the status quo is restored at the border. That message was even forcefully echoed by the Prime Minister during his virtual summit with the Australian Prime Minister.
So why did Wang come to India and why did he receive him in New Delhi? An important reason is the BRICS summit, which China wants to organize in person later this year. BRICS countries are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. China would like Prime Minister Modi to attend in person.
The problem is that Beijing wants India to continue as usual, despite the problems at the border. While New Delhi is clear that is not going to happen. Just see the Chinese statement after Wang Yi’s talks with Foreign Minister Jaishankar in Delhi. They said: “China and India should adhere to a long-term vision, win-win thinking and cooperative attitude.” It also said: “India and China should put the differences on the border issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations and adhere to the correct development direction of bilateral relations.” In other words, forget what we did at the border, let’s move on and talk about trade, meat and doing all the normal stuff.
Now, that’s where New Delhi set foot and snubbed China. Foreign Minister Jaishankar told the media: “Is our relationship normal today? My answer to you is: no, it is not, and it cannot be normal if the situation in the border areas is abnormal and certainly the presence of a large number of troops there in violation of agreements is abnormal.” As things stand, it would be difficult for the Prime Minister to attend the BRICS summit and meet President Xi Jinping in person. The last time they met in person was in November 2019 for the BRICS summit in Brazil. Just a month earlier, Xi had come to India for an informal summit. Indian officials believe that if China is so eager to visit Modi, they are more likely to resolve the border issue. They did it in Doklam just before the BRICS summit in Xiamen in 2017. The Russian war in Ukraine and the new geopolitical dynamics it has created also play a role. On the surface, India and China are on the same page when it comes to Russia, but for different reasons.
India relies heavily on Russian weapons, which it ironically has to defend against China. China, on the other hand, has described its friendship with Russia as one that knows no boundaries. And that is why Beijing is facing the wrath of the West, especially the United States. Therefore, it may be trying to find a common cause with India. For New Delhi, however, the bottom line is clear: the biggest threat around comes from China, and there’s a long way to go to even build some trust again.