As the Indian initiative at the ground zero in Eastern Ladakh takes China by surprise, Beijing is trying to find a way for chickening out of the tense standoff. Therefore, India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar prevailed over his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, when the two leaders met in Moscow on Thursday. While India reasserted that the status quo must be restored and the Chinese PLA should withdraw to its original positions, China has avoided blaming India, unlike the outcome of the Defence Ministers’ meeting earlier where China put the blame squarely on India for the current face-offs.
Though India and China issued a joint statement, releasing a five-point consensus for de-escalating the ongoing border skirmishes in Eastern Ladakh, it is Wang Yi who has kneeled before Dr. Jaishankar. In a desperate bid to avoid any escalation with India, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a separate statement, which extends an olive branch and consciously avoids holding India responsible for the ongoing crisis- a major departure from the official stance that Beijing was taking till now.
In its separate statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has undertaken to maintain communication with India by keeping the diplomatic and military channels open and commit to “restoring peace and tranquillity” at the contested areas of the undemarcated border.
Beijing is moving very cautiously with the heightened tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Eastern Ladakh sector. This is why China issued a separate statement even after a joint statement was issued by India and China, following the Jaishankar-Wang Yi meet on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Moscow.
Wang Yi has himself emphasised that “the imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides.”
Wang Yi’s approach to the ongoing Sino-India military standoff in Eastern Ladakh is at odds with the war commentary that hard-line Communist tabloids are running within China. Global Times, a CCP mouthpiece, for example, had said, “The Chinese side must be fully prepared to take military action when diplomatic engagement fails, and its frontline troops must be able to respond to emergencies, and be ready to fight at any time,” just ahead of the meeting of the all-important Jaishankar-Wang Yi meeting in Moscow.
The CCP mouthpiece had also accused India of holding a grudge over the 1962 conflict, and described the country as in “an unprecedented state of puffing”.
However, while the Chinese State-run media is running relentless war commentary, the Xi Jinping administration doesn’t really seem to be up for any escalation or limited warfare with India. The Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been left perplexed by how the Indian Army pushback in Eastern Ladakh, especially on the northern and southern banks of the Pangong Tso Lake.
Moreover, India’s actions against Chinese business interests in the backdrop of the Eastern Ladakh standoff have hiked the financial costs for China. Beijing knows that its exports-based economy will be punished by New Delhi as long as the standoff continues, and therefore the PLA misadventures in the Himalayas is only hurting the Chinese economy.
The Indian armed forces have secured dominating heights looking over the PLA positions and any misadventure by the Chinese troops would certainly invite the wrath of India’s firepower. Therefore, China is compelled to go on the backfoot. In its diplomatic engagements with India, Beijing is no longer in a position to blame India, as it has been pushed back by the Indian advances. China has officially kneeled before India and is now looking to somehow end the ongoing military standoff.