United States President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he had offered to help New Delhi and Beijing resolve their ongoing tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The offer came as a surprise on a day when the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) appeared to soften its line on the stand-off, suggesting the situation was “stable and controllable” now.
“We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Mr. Trump did not elaborate on his offer, which came as a surprise for several reasons. While the U.S. has offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on multiple occasions in the past, this is the first time an American official has offered to be the third party between India and China publicly. Mr. Trump’s comments also appear to be at variance from the stand taken by senior U.S. State Department official Alice Wells, who had squarely blamed China for the border tensions and called China a “threat” to all its neighbours.
Moreover, Mr. Trump’s offer comes at a time when the U.S. and China themselves have tensions between them on several fronts. In addition to an uneasy trade situation between the two, the U.S. has accused China of not being transparent with information in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. And just recently, U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the U.S. could impose sanctions on both China and Hong Kong, if China were to go ahead and impose a national security law on Hong Kong.
Neither the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) nor China’s MoFA responded to Mr. Trump’s statement on Wednesday. India has in the past rejected all offers for third party mediation, and China is also expected to reject the proposal.
A senior Indian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that neither side would take the offer “seriously”, although given the “optics”, China would view it less favourably.
Earlier on Wednesday, China had said that both sides would resolve the stand-off bilaterally.
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“At present, the situation in the border areas between China and India is generally stable and controllable,” China’s MoFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a briefing. “Between the two countries, we have good border related mechanism and communication channels. We are capable of resolving related issues properly though dialogue and consultation,” he added.
“China and India communicate through established border-related mechanisms and diplomatic channels, including communication between local border troops, diplomatic departments and embassies of the two countries,” he remarked, in responses at the briefing that appeared to signal a détente in the month-long standoff between the two armies. Indian and Chinese troops have faced off at at least four points along the LAC, including Pangong Tso (lake), Demchok and Galwan Valley in Ladakh and Naku La in Sikkim, where PLA soldiers are reported to have occupied tracts where Indian troops patrol, pitching tents and building trenches. It is unclear whether the Chinese soldiers, who have been involved in clashes with their Indian counterparts, would now vacate the area.
Mr. Trump’s comments were also surprising as the Centre has so far not said that the situation at the LAC was serious in any way, and has stressed that “established mechanisms” were being applied to resolve the issue. In the only official statement made to date on the LAC tensions, the MEA spokesperson had accused Chinese troops of “hindering normal patrol patterns”, although sources on the ground have said that PLA troops have moved in, in considerable numbers.
Attacking the government for not providing enough information on the situation along the LAC, the Congress party called the ‘stand-off’ a matter of “serious national concern”.
“The differing accounts in national and international media of escalation and continuing stalemate has caused anxiety among the people of India,” said the opposition party’s senior spokesperson Anand Sharma, even as he urged the government to “take the nation into confidence” on the issue.
(With inputs from Ananth Krishnan)