External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (L) met China’s State Councilor & Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Bali, Indonesia, July 7, 2022
The G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at Bali, Indonesia, last week was threatened by the hot lava flowing from Eurasia. Western diplomats tried hard to “isolate” Russia but the indefatigable Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov refused to oblige. As the dust settles down, China emerges out of the Bali summitry as the adult in the room.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi took an astounding number of “bilaterals” in less than 48 hours — with G20 counterparts from Indonesia, India, Russia, Argentina, European Union, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, France, Canada, Spain, Netherlands, Singapore, United States, Germany and Australia. In addition, China also held high the banner of multilateralism and put forward a Cooperation Initiative on Global Food Security. Welcome to the Post-American Century!
From the Indian perspective, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s meeting with FM Wang Yi on June 7 was the highlight at Bali. The readouts from New Delhi and Beijing convey a positive impression. (here and here)
The Indian readout appeared first and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in his daily briefing hastened to comment on it, while the Chinese readout appeared only the next day! Zhao Lijian said:
“We have read India’s press release about the meeting. What I can say is that the China-India border area is generally stable at the moment. The two sides have agreed to follow the important common understandings reached by the two leaders and the agreements signed by both sides, and properly resolve issues related to the Western sector of the China-India boundary in line with the principle of mutual and equal security. China and India are each other’s important neighbours. The two sides have the will and capability of jointly maintaining peace and tranquility in the China-India border areas.”
In the Chinese readout, Wang Yi noted that “bilateral relations have generally shown a recovery momentum” since March. Jaishankar tended to agree, saying, “the two sides have made positive progress in aspects such as safeguarding stability along the borders, promoting practical cooperation and facilitating personnel exchanges.”
Unsurprisngly, the Indian readout highlighted Delhi’s expectations regarding complete disengagement at the Ladakh border and the holding of the next round of Senior Commanders’ meeting at an early date. The Chinese MFA spokesman did touch on it while also flagging “the principle of mutual and equal security” in resolving the “issues related to the Western sector of the China-India boundary.”
The Chinese readout highlighted that the Indian government “looks forward to a positive, cooperative and constructive India-China relationship, and stands ready to work with China to release a clear signal to push for the improvement of bilateral ties, and turn the consensus and vision of the two leaders into reality.”
Significantly, Jaishankar has also conveyed to Wang Yi that “India will continue upholding strategic autonomy and an independent position on international affairs.”
The importance of it cannot be underestimated, coming as it does after the recent G7 summit in Germany (to which Prime Minister Modi was invited as special guest) and the NATO summit in Madrid soon after where a new “Security Concept” carrying Washington’s imprimatur was unveiled, which cast China in unfriendly terms.
To be sure, Delhi must be closely watching the Biden Administration’s diplomatic pirouette vis-a-vis Beijing lately. Bali witnessed an extraordinary spectacle — a 5-hour one-on-one between Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (with simultaneous interpretation and no aides present), which the MFA in Beijing characterised as “comprehensive, in-depth and candid communication at length.”
The Chinese readout highlighted that “Both sides agreed that the dialogue was substantive and constructive, and has helped the two sides increase mutual understanding, reduce misunderstanding and miscalculation, and accumulated conditions for future high-level interactions.”
Blinken assured Wang Yi that the Biden Administration “does not seek to engage in a new Cold War with China, change China’s system, challenge the status of the Communist Party of China or block China, and it does not support Taiwan independence or seek to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. The United States is committed to managing risks in the bilateral relations and is open to cooperation with China.”
Anticipating a strategic defeat in Ukraine, the Biden administration is seeking détente with China — an easing of hostility and strained relations — as war fatigue is setting in and the European allies are reeling from the blowback from sanctions. The Biden administration’s narrative on Ukraine and Russia is collapsing, as European countries are getting bogged down in social, economic and political turmoil internally — especially Germany, the powerhouse of Europe.
Washington fears, rightly so, that a resurgent Russia is not going to let this moment pass. President Vladimir Putin’s hard-hitting speech on July 7 while addressing Russia’s political elites at a Kremlin meeting leaves the Biden Administration in no doubt. Putin openly stated that Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine “also means the beginning of a radical breakdown of the US-style world order. This is the beginning of the transition from liberal-globalist American egocentrism to a truly multipolar world.”
Putin said: “Everyone should understand that this process cannot be stopped. The course of history is inexorable, and the collective West’s attempts to impose its new world order on the rest of the world are doomed… Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. Well, what can I say? Let them try… At the same time, we are not rejecting peace talks, but those who are rejecting them should know that the longer it (war) goes on, the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us.”
The Wang Yi-Blinken meeting in Bali couldn’t have had a more dramatic setting. Going forward, the meeting will pave the way for interactions between Biden and Xi Jinping.
Wang Yi told Jaishankar that as these “once-in-a-century changes in the world” unfold, India should “by no means drift with the tide” but instead ought to “maintain strategic focus… and take concrete actions to follow through on the important consensus reached by the leaders” — ie., eschew zero-sum mindset and regard each other not as threats but as “opportunities for each other’s development.”
Wang Yi implied that China and India are on the same page with regard to the Ukraine situation. In fact, the Chinese Foreign ministry culled out this part of Wang Yi’s conversation with Jaishankar as a separate press release to project China’s “three concerns” over the situation in Ukraine:
- China opposes the West’s narrative which aims “to incite Cold War mentality, hype up bloc confrontation, and create a new Cold War.” Instead of polarisation and confrontation, China counsels dialogue and peace talks.
- There is sophistry and double standards in the West’s attempt to project the principle of sovereignty on the Ukraine issue.
- China opposes the West’s unilateral sanctions against Russia, which are “neither justified nor legal” and have undermined normal state-to-state exchanges, violated the prevailing rules of international trade, and also “complicated and magnified the Ukraine crisis. All parties should jointly reject such acts and strive to build an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for international cooperation.”
From the Chinese perspective, there is some appreciation that Modi government upheld India’s strategic autonomy in the face of concerted Western pressure. India’s upcoming G20 and SCO Presidency should give greater clarity to the “big picture” of India-China relationship, as the endgame in Ukraine would be in view and, hopefully, the delusional estimations regarding Quad, etc., would have withered away. After all, the China-India border area has been generally stable during the past two-year period and the mutual interest lies in keeping things that way and to build on it.