Situation in Ladakh the 'most serious' after 1962 conflict, says Jaishankar

S Jaishankar said it is "an extremely consequential relationship for both and it requires a strategy and a vision".

A solution to the border row with China must be predicated on honouring all agreements and understandings without attempting to alter the status quo unilaterally, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said, in a clear assertion of India's position on the issue.

Jaishankar called the situation in Ladakh the "most serious" after the 1962 conflict, adding the quantum of forces currently deployed by both sides at the Line of Actual Control(LAC) is also "unprecedented". At the same time, he noted that all border situations were resolved through diplomacy.

"As you know, we are talking to the Chinese both through military channels and diplomatic ones. In fact, they work in tandem," the external affairs minister told in an interview ahead of the release of his book 'The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World'.

"But when it comes to finding a solution, this must be predicated on honouring all agreements and understandings. And not attempting to alter the status quo unilaterally," he said. India has been insisting that the border standoff with China must be resolved in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols for border management between the two countries.

Asked how he envisaged the future of India-China ties in the book that was written before the border row erupted, the external affairs minister said it is "an extremely consequential relationship for both and it requires a strategy and a vision".

"What I have said is that the ability of India and China to work together could determine the Asian century. But their difficulties in doing so may well undermine it. So, this is an extremely consequential relationship for both. It has its fair share of problems and I have been forthright in acknowledging them," Jaishankar said.

"We need honest conversations on this, among Indians and between India and China. That is why this relationship requires both a strategy and a vision," he noted.

Referring to the impact of the border row on the rest of the relationship, Jaishankar said India has conveyed to the Chinese side "clearly" that peace and tranquility in the border areas are the basis for the relationship.

"If we look back at the last three decades, this is quite self-evident. Indian and Chinese armies are locked in a tense standoff in eastern Ladakh for over three-and-half-month despite multiple rounds of diplomatic and military talks. The tension escalated after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley clash in which Chinese military also suffered casualties.

"This is surely the most serious situation after 1962. In fact, after 45 years, we have had military casualties on this border. The quantum of forces currently deployed by both sides at the LAC is also unprecedented," Jaishankar said.

The external affairs minister also referred to previous episodes of border tensions with China including in Doklam, affirming that India will do what it takes to secure its borders.

"If you look back over the last decade, there have been a number of border situations -- Depsang, Chumar and Doklam. In a sense, each one was different. This one surely is. But what is also common is that all border situations were resolved through diplomacy," he said.

"I am not minimising either the seriousness or the complex nature of the current situation. Naturally, we have to do what it takes to secure our borders," Jaishankar added.

In the course of the interview, the external affairs minister touched upon a wide range of issues including India's ties with the US and Russia, relevance of Jawaharlal Nehru's non-alignment approach, major burdens from the past and historic global events that influenced India's diplomacy since 1977 when he joined the Indian Foreign Service.

Asked about Indian thinking in achieving its strategic goals in the 21st century, Jaishankar said, with a billion-plus civilisational society, the country is poised to occupy a much more prominent place in the world.

"That puts us in a pretty unique position. Only China can claim something similar," he said.

On the impact of an inward looking approach of the US and its 'America First' policy, Jaishankar said India should take a "clinical view" of its own interests and not get entangled in the debates of others.

"We have a broad spectrum of support in the US. These relations have progressed through multiple administrations. And that tells us that the convergences are getting deeper and broader by the day," he said.

"Like everybody else, both India and the US are coming to terms with the changing world and are obviously discovering the merits of doing more together," he added.

On ties with Russia, he said the relationship has been remarkably consistent even though the world has seen dramatic changes over the last three decades and that the convergences are "very strong" in many areas.

"But popular sentiment and leadership efforts have also given these ties an exceptional character. Its growing economic content and cooperation in Russia's Far East are new facets that have strengthened it recently," he added.

Asked about the burden from the past, he identified the result of Partition, a 15-year gap in ushering in economic reforms compared to China and stretching of the nuclear option.

"Whatever the causes, the result of Partition was a reduction in India's geo-political significance and global standing. As for the economic reforms, I would compare our moment of change with that of China. There is a 15-year gap, which has huge implications," he said.

Jaishankar further said: "As for stretching the nuclear option -- that we finally concluded in 1998 -- it unnecessarily prolonged the hyphenation with Pakistan."

"People may debate the compulsions and merits of each of these factors. But no one can deny that they had a serious impact on our strategic prospects," he added.

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