In an article, titled China and the World in the Year of the Ox, published on a website, The Policy Chronicle, China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, has written that the two countries should “put the boundary dispute in the appropriate place in bilateral relations, address differences in a rational and constructive manner, and not allow differences to become disputes”
The core argument of the piece is that the cooperative element of the India-China relationship outweighs the areas of differences, common interests are greater than inconsistencies, and the two sides should respect each other, enhance mutual trust, and shelve differences while meeting each other halfway.
As reasonable as this sounds, China is wrong. The appropriate place of the border dispute is at the centre of the relationship at this juncture. Yes, India has recognized — at least since 1988 — that there is no easy resolution of the border dispute. That is why both countries evolved a framework to keep peace at the border, while maintaining their respective stated positions on it, and deepening other elements of the bilateral ties. The unilateral and unprovoked Chinese aggression at the border in eastern Ladakh, the clash at Galwan, and the prolonged military stand-off, however, have changed things. If the border is not peaceful, if India’s territorial integrity is at stake, and if Indian lives have been lost, then no Indian government can proceed with the relationship in business-as-usual mode.
If China wants to repair overall ties, there is a simple solution. In the Year of the Ox, it can disengage, demobilize and restore status quo ante at the Line of Actual Control. Reports of disengagement from the Pangong Tso area on Wednesday evening are positive — but India must carefully monitor whether Beijing translates words into meaningful action.