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Despite Bali Bilateral (?): India China Strategic Mistrust Continues

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Mr Wang Yi, Director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and now also the Foreign Minister after the unceremonious removal as it seems of the short lived Mr Qin Gang met with Indian National Security Adviser Mr Ajit Doval in Johannesburg on the sidelines of the BRICS National Security Advisers meet on 24 July.

An interesting facet of the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing was to quote Wang Yi as saying, “At the end of last year, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi reached an important consensus on stabilizing China-India relations in Bali”.

This is the first mention of such a bilateral happening between the top leaders of India and China on the sidelines of the Bali G 20 Summit. Previously the only information was an informal exchange of pleasantries between the two leaders at one of the events during the G 20 in Bali.

Indeed it would be safe to presume that such a bilateral summit took place given that there has been no denial from the Indian side even though almost 48 hours have passed after the Chinese MFA statement.

And in the Weekly Media Briefing on July 27, Indian Ministry of Spokesperson Arindam Bagchee has indeed confirmed that such a meeting if not a formal bilateral took place.

The bilateral augurs well in the sense that it implies strategic communication between India and China’s top leadership is continuing.

What is however also important to note that Strategic Mistrust continues.

As per the Chinese MFA statement, Mr Wang Yi indicated, “The two sides should adhere to the strategic judgment of the leaders of the two countries that "they do not pose a threat to each other, and they are each other's development opportunities", truly implement the consensus on stabilizing bilateral relations into specific policies, and translate them into concerted actions by various departments and fields, enhance strategic mutual trust, focus on consensus and cooperation, overcome interference and difficulties, and promote the return of bilateral relations to the track of healthy and stable development at an early date.

On the contrary the Chinese statement quotes Mr Ajit Doval as saying, “The Indian side is willing to work with the Chinese side to find a fundamental way to resolve the border situation in the spirit of mutual understanding and mutual respect, look at the overall situation and the long-term, promote the improvement and development of bilateral relations as soon as possible, and make positive contributions to maintaining world peace and prosperity”.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs statement of the NSA’s meet is more cryptic and the relevant portion of the statement indicates an erosion of strategic trust. During the meeting, NSA conveyed that the situation along the LAC in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary since 2020 had eroded strategic trust and the public and political basis of the relationship,” as per the MEA statement.

Will there be more bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping given that two major summits are lined up where the two will be present such as the BRICS and the G20 remains to be seen?

What would result in re-establishment of strategic trust – certainly that would be far more than disengagement and de-escalation from the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.

For as two competitors in the international and regional arena having occupied two opposite corners of the ring so to say, strategic trust between India and China will continue to be at a premium.

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