External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday outlined eight broad principles and three "mutuals" to mend strained ties between India and China, and said the two countries are truly at crossroads and their choices will have profound repercussions, not just for them but for the entire world.
In an address at an online conference, Jaishankar said the developments in eastern Ladakh last year brought the relationship under "exceptional stress" and India is yet to receive a credible explanation for the change in China's stance or reasons for amassing troops in the border areas. The two countries are locked in a military standoff in eastern Ladakh since May 5 last.
The eight principles listed by Jaishankar to take bilateral ties forward included strict adherence to all agreements on border management, fully respecting the Line of Actual Control(LAC), making peace and tranquillity along the frontier the basis for overall ties, recognising that a multi-polar Asia is an essential constituent of a multipolar world and managing differences effectively.
Jaishankar mentioned the three "mutuals" as mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interests and described them as determining factors for the ties, noting that as rising powers, each will have their own set of aspirations and their pursuit too cannot be ignored.
"Any expectation that they can be brushed aside, and that life can carry on undisturbed despite the situation at the border, that is simply not realistic," he said delivering the keynote address at the 13th All India Conference of China Studies.
In a criticism of China, Jaishankar said the developments in eastern Ladakh have "profoundly disturbed" the relationship because they not only signalled a "disregard" for commitments about minimising troop levels, but also showed a willingness to breach peace and tranquillity.
"Significantly, to date, we have yet to receive a credible explanation for the change in China''s stance or reasons for massing of troops in the border areas. It is a different matter that our own forces have responded appropriately and held their own in very challenging circumstances," he said.
"The issue before us is what the Chinese posture signals, how it evolves, and what implications it may have for the future of our ties."
Giving a clear perspective of India's approach in dealing with China, the external affairs minister said the development of the ties can only be based on "mutuality", whether it is the immediate concerns or more distant prospects.
Jaishankar said there was increasing construction of border infrastructure by the Chinese side but noted that there may have been more efforts by India to reduce this very considerable gap since 2014 including greater budget commitments and a better road building record.
"Nevertheless, the infrastructure differential remains significant and, as we saw last year, consequential," he added.
Talking about the experience of the past, he said it showed the importance of stabilising the relationship even while adjusting to changes.
"From that, we can seek proper guidance that will be to the benefit of both nations. These can be summed up by eight broad propositions. First and foremost, agreements already reached must be adhered to in their entirety, both in letter and spirit," he said.
"Second, where the handling of the border areas are concerned, the LAC must be strictly observed and respected; any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo is completely unacceptable."
Third, he said peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the basis for the development of relations in other domains, noting if they are disturbed, so inevitably will be the rest of the relationship.
This, he said, is quite apart from the issue of progress in the boundary negotiations.
"Fourth, while both nations are committed to a multi-polar world, there should be a recognition that a multi-polar Asia is one of its essential constituents. Fifth, obviously each state will have its own interests, concerns and priorities; but sensitivity to them cannot be one-sided. At the end of the day, relationships between major states are reciprocal in nature," Jaishankar said.
The sixth principle, he said was that as rising powers the two countries will have their own set of aspirations and their pursuit too cannot be ignored.
The seventh proposition is that there will always be divergences and differences but their management is essential to the bilateral ties, he said, adding that the last principle is that civilizational states like India and China must always take the long view.
"Respecting the three mutuals and observing those eight principles that I spoke about will surely help us make the right decisions," he said.
Jaishankar said it was a "very painstaking and arduous endeavour" to rebuild the ties after the 1962 conflict as both countries exchanged Ambassadors only in 1976 and the first prime ministerial visit to China took place only in 1988 after 1954.
In the last three decades, Jaishankar said cooperation between the two countries grew steadily and China became one of India's largest trading partners and a very significant source of investment and technology. He said the advancement of ties in this period was clearly predicated on ensuring that peace and tranquillity were not disturbed and that the LAC was both observed and respected by both sides.
"For this reason, it was explicitly agreed that the two countries would refrain from massing troops on their common border," he said.
Referring to talks between the two sides to resolve the Ladakh standoff, he said discussions were underway through various mechanisms on disengagement at the border areas.
Jaishankar also talked about "events" before 2020 that reflected the "duality" of cooperation and competition while referring to China blocking at the UN the listing of Pakistani terrorists involved in attacks on India as well as Beijing''s opposition to New Delhi''s membership of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group(NSG) and for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
"We saw trade grow dramatically, though its one-sided nature made it increasingly controversial. In sectors like power and telecom, Chinese companies obtained access to the Indian market," he said.
Jaishankar said though common membership of plurilateral groups by India and China was a meeting point, yet, when it came to interests and aspirations, some of the divergences were apparent.