New Delhi, Noting that the Chinese action in Doklam is of concern, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Thursday that India will continue to engage with China diplomatically to resolve the border standoff and that war is not a solution.
“Our stand is that we maintain restraint in language and keep patience and engage in diplomacy. No solution will be gained out of war because even after war, talks are required. A solution cannot be derived out of war.
“Times are changing and it is economic power and not strategic power that decides strength of a nation…If there is a dialogue there will be a solution,” she said in a combative speech in the Rajya Sabha, dismissing opposition criticism during a foreign policy debate on the government’s handling of diplomatic relations, specially with neighbours.
India, she said, always believes that peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas is an important prerequisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations.
“We will continue to engage with the Chinese side through diplomatic channels to find a mutually acceptable solution on the basis of the Astana consensus between our leaders. I note the sense of the House is supportive,” the Minister said, recalling that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had agreed during their recent meeting in the Kazakhstan capital that differences should not be allowed to be converted into disputes.
In this regard, she said, in keeping with the unique and traditional friendship with Bhutan “we will also continue to maintain close consultation and coordination with the Royal Government of Bhutan”.
She said that Chinese investment in India has touched $160 billion, and “we are talking of bilateral relations with China and not only Doklam”. She said that in India’s growing economic capabilities, “there is a big investment from China”.
Reading out from a prepared text, the Minister said, “Our relations with China have recently come under renewed focus due to developments in the Doklam area in the Sikkim sector close to the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction boundary.”
She said India’s position has been articulated in the statement issued by her Ministry on June 30. “Our concerns emanate from Chinese action on the ground which have implications for determination of the tri-junction boundary point between India, China and Bhutan and the alignment of the India-China boundary in the Sikkim sector. Both these aspects of tri-junction point and India-China boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector have been earlier addressed in a common understanding reached between Special Representatives of India and China on the boundary question in December 2010.”
She said point 13 of the common understanding states that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries. “Since 2012, we have not held any discussion on the tri-junction with Bhutan.”
“The Chinese action in Doklam area is therefore of concern. With regard to the boundary in Sikkim sector, there are still steps to be covered before the boundaries are finalised,” she said.
This understanding, the Minister said, has been reflected in the common understanding of December 2012 in point number 12 which states that there is mutual agreement on the basis of alignment of India-China boundary in the Sikkim sector as provided by the convention between China and Great Britain relating to Tibet and Sikkim in 1890.
Rejecting opposition members charge that the government has done nothing to extend hand of friendship to Pakistan, Sushma Swaraj recalled the steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including his invitation to all neighbours for his swearing-in during which in bilateral talks it was decided that Foreign Secretary level talks will begin.
She also recalled Modi’s impromptu visit to Lahore for greeting then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday but said dialogue cannot be a one-way track.
“Terror and talks cannot go together. The day Pakistan puts an end to terror, talks will begin,” she said, adding that the bilateral ties suffered a setback the day Sharif hailed slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani as a freedom fighter.
Overall, she said India’s ties with neighbours were good as was its relationship with the US, Russia and other major countries.
On apprehensions that ties with Muslim-majority nations in West Asia could deteriorate once the Modi government came to power, she said if there was one country with which that region has the best relationship, it was India.
The External Affairs Minister also dismissed apprehensions over growing ties between India and Israel and the alleged bypassing of Palestine. “We will never let down Palestine. We will never go back on our commitment for a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian issue. In fact, the Palestine leadership looks at our relationship with Israel in a positive way.”
She said Prime Minister Modi visited Israel to celebrate 25 years of establishment of diplomatic relations with that country while she and former President Pranab Mukherjee visited Palestine before they undertook trips to Israel.
On the relationship with countries in the Middle East region, Sushma Swaraj said Saudi Arabia conferred its highest civilian honour on Modi during his trip, while good relationship with Yemen resulted in bringing back stranded Indians from there. India’s relationship with both the warring countries and talks with their leadership helped resolve the issue.
On the standoff with China, Sushma Swaraj said that during the eighth Special Representatives meeting in 2006, the Chinese side had, in fact, handed over a non-paper for separate agreement on the boundary in the Sikkim sector.
The non-paper had proposed that both sides may, based on the 1890 historical treaty, verify and determine the specific alignment of the Sikkim sector and produce a common record. On this basis as an initial result of the boundary settlement both sides may negotiate and sign an agreement on the boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector to replace the historical treaty.
Subsequently, in the Special Representatives meetings, the Chinese side made the proposal for finalising the boundary in the Sikkim sector terming it as an “early harvest” of the Special Representative process.
“This clearly confirms that the boundary in the Sikkim Sector is not yet finalised. We have noted the Chinese side has selectively quoted parts of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter of March 22, 1959 pertaining to the India-China boundary in the Sikkim Sector.
“A full and accurate account of that letter would have also brought out that Prime Minister Nehru’s assertion was clearly based on the boundary alignment as shown in our Indian published maps. The Chinese side in their recent document published on the website of their Foreign Ministry have expressed commitment to maintain peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas,” she said.
On Bangladesh, she said the neighbouring country has the best relations with India and Bhutan is “our dearest friend”.
Referring to the US, she said that after US President Donald Trump talked about India wanting dollars in climate mitigation technology, the government made it clear that it was not lured by money and was committed to the Paris accord out of conviction.
Yet again rejecting opposition charges, the Minister said India and Prime Minister Modi were setting a global agenda, talking about terror, and black money. “While Pandit Nehru earned a lot of respect personally, Narendra Modi got respect for the whole country”.