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Fresh LAC tensions cast shadow over SCO meets; channels of communication silver lining


NEW DELHI: Fresh tensions along the Line of Actual Control since last weekend would cast a shadow over defence minister and foreign minister level Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meets in Moscow this week and the next, but will provide an opportunity for top ministers from the two countries to keep channels of communication open.

While the SCO format does not deal with the bilateral issues, PLA moves along the LAC have created an awkward situation for Delhi ahead of the meetings. It, however, remains committed to strengthen Russian presidency for SCO-BRICS this year, ET has learnt.

All eyes will be on any bilateral Sino-Indian or Russia India China (RIC) engagement on the sidelines of SCO meetings. Russia had proposed RIC defence and foreign ministers meet with an eye on reducing Sino-Indian tensions on the sidelines of SCO meetings. Moscow had emerged as a political player in the episode and has activated quiet backchannel diplomacy to reduce tensions between two neighbours as part of larger Eurasian stability.

While the India’s defence minister will be in Moscow September 3-5, the foreign minister is expected to be in the Russian capital September 9-10. This would the external affairs minister first trip abroad since the lockdown.

This would be the first opportunity for face-to-face meetings between Indian and Chinese ministers since the beginning of tensions in May. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi have communicated virtually including at a RIC meet with Covid curtailing travel in the past few months. Indian NSA and Special Representative Ajit Doval, has been in touch with his Chinese counterpart and in early July gave political direction to the disengagement process.

In case of any bilateral meeting between the ministers, the Indian side is expected to call for restoring status quo along LAC as it expected till this April, and would convey that ongoing tensions could impact overall bilateral relationship, ET has learnt.

The Chinese ministers will also be urged to discipline and control their frontline troops from undertaking provocative actions along LAC in case both sides hold standalone bilateral meets, it has been learnt.

India will also reiterate that it is firmly committed to resolve all outstanding issues along the LAC through peaceful dialogue. In case of bilateral meetings, it will be further conveyed to China that actions are also in complete disregard to the understandings reached between the two foreign ministers as also the special representatives.

India and China have been closely engaged through diplomatic and military channels over the past three months to resolve the situation along the India-China border. While it did yield some results and started a disengagement process, PLA continues to be intransigent about restoring the status quo.

In the latest incident, the Chinese side violated this understanding and engaged in provocative military manoeuvres in the late night of August 29 and on August 30 in an attempt to change the status quo in the South Bank area of Pangong Lake along LAC, according to MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava

There are some views here that China deliberately increased tensions along the LAC ahead of any bilateral meets on the sidelines of SCO meetings to negotiate from a position of strength. Pakistan’s role in SCO deliberations will also be keenly watched. The SCO Summit is proposed to be held in St Petersburg in October followed by SCO heads of governments meeting at the end of November in Delhi.

“The current strategy of aggressive actions in the Eastern Ladakh is to acquire as much area as possible before the final talks at higher level, with three-fold objective -to enable China to have a better bargaining position, to occupy strategic points for the protection of CPEC and satisfy the domestic population… A firm stand at the border and deft diplomatic moves using all our leverages can help in reducing the tension. Russia can play a significant role in containing China and that must be utilised. Alongside, India has to continue with economic pressure,” suggested Dr SD Pradhan, former Deputy NSA

While the hosts Russia view the forthcoming SCO meets as Confidence Building Measures (CBM) between India and China, it remains concerned over the fallout of the tension in the Eurasian theatre, ET has learnt. “This current problem will not be put on the SCO agenda – it is a bilateral matter between China and India. However, this unfortunate incident might have a detrimental impact on the SCO ability to enhance multilateral cooperation in the security domain in general.

“Moscow is very concerned about possible repercussions of the event as well as about the recent Indian decision to abstain from taking part in the Russia led multilateral military exercises Kavkaz-2020,” Ambassador Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (leading Russian think-tank) and a former diplomat, told ET from Moscow. Incidentally, the PLA hardened its position ahead of SCO meets as it did before RIC June meet by killing 20 Indian military personnel.

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