No-bilateral was PM’s message to Xi

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PM Modi lays foundation stone of development projects at Vyara

The most important “statement” made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the SCO summit in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand was, in reality, not a statement, but the message that he sent out by not meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in a bilateral on the sidelines of the summit. The message was clear: Xi Jinping will have to earn the meeting by working for peace. As if to coincide with the SCO meeting, China put a hold on the joint US-India proposal to add Sajid Mir, a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorist, and one of the main persons behind the 26/11 terror attack on the UNSC 1267 sanctions list. Of course, China had done it earlier as well, several times, but the timing of this hold is being speculated to be deliberate, to show Chinese disapproval of the bilateral meeting not taking place. There was major speculation that China agreed to the pullout of troops from Patrolling Point 15 (PP15) in the Hot Springs area in Ladakh to ensure that the two leaders could meet. From all accounts, the refusal to meet came from the Indian side, showing that resolving the border dispute was a priority for India, specifically the restoration of status quo to pre-May 2020/Galwan levels. Till date, even after 16 rounds of border talks, India has not been able to persuade China to pull out from the crucial Depsang area. Experts say that the PP15 pullout was supposed to take place soon after the disengagement from the Kailash Heights last year. Hence, if the Chinese thought that by taking action a year later they would make the Indians agree to a bilateral, they obviously thought wrongly. Till date, China has not decreased the troops build-up along the Line of Actual Control, in fact, it has been reinforcing its presence along the LAC, making it impossible for things to return to normal. As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has made the Indian government’s position clear: the state of the border will determine India-China ties and that there has to be mutual sensitivity, mutual respect, and mutual interest for ties to return to normal. It’s but natural that unless and until China respects India’s territorial integrity there cannot be any movement forward towards normality and token troops pullout is not reason enough to send the message to the world that everything is normal between India and China.
As for sending a message to the world, PM Modi did some plainspeaking with President Vladimir Putin, by politely but firmly pointing out that this was not the era of war and that the developing world was suffering because of supply chain disruptions in oil, fertilizers, etc, courtesy Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, his words should also serve as a clear message to those who ever doubted that India was truly neutral when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine war, and instead was siding with Russia. Moscow has many friends in India and they would like to believe that Russia is winning the war, but the fact is that Russia has been suffering military reverses, and by weaponizing oil and gas it is not winning any supporters from across the world. Putin has made the developing world a collateral damage in his war. Whatever be Putin’s reasons for going to war against Ukraine, it is increasingly looking like it’s more about his own ego and survival. Why should the world pay a price for it? India cannot be seen to be siding with him in this misadventure. By attending the SCO summit there was a risk of India being seen as a part of the China-Russia bloc. The PM’s firm message to Putin and the decision not to meet Xi Jinping, made it clear that India was in no one’s camp. And then on Friday itself, when the PM was in Samarkand, India voted in favour of allowing Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy to address the United Nations virtually, thus reaffirming its neutrality and dispelling all doubts on its sincerity about upholding democratic values.