Beijing tries to make nice . . .
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in New Delhi on Friday for a previously unannounced visit with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. It was the highest-level meeting between the two countries since a deadly military confrontation erupted in mid-2020 along the shared Himalayan border. In addition to wanting to put the relationship back on solid footing, China may have also been seeking to exploit the tensions between India and its Western partners over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Like China, India has refused to condemn the invasion, but has also done more than Beijing to distance itself from Moscow’s actions. Some observers saw Wang’s visit as part of a broader "diplomatic blitz" by Beijing to build clout in the Global South as the West remains consumed by the crisis in Europe.
Foot-in-mouth disease . . .
The day before the meeting, Wang did himself no favours with his Indian audience. Speaking in Pakistan to a gathering of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Wang weighed in on the issue of Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region claimed by both New Delhi and Islamabad and the source of fierce and sometimes violent competition between India and Pakistan. Hinting at support for Pakistan, a close Chinese ally, Wang said China “heard the call of many Islamic friends” over Kashmir and that Beijing shares “the same aspiration.” New Delhi’s rebuke was immediate and unequivocal: China has no basis for commenting on another country’s internal issues.
Charm offensive falls flat . . .
Wang tried to reassure New Delhi that China is not seeking a “unipolar Asia” and respects India’s role in the region. Nevertheless, post-meeting statements by both sides struck a discordant tone, especially on the border issue. Wang suggested the issue could be set aside while focusing on other aspects of the relationship. But India, according to one expert, was “not buying what China’s selling,” and New Delhi remains firm in its view that relations can not return to normal as long as China has soldiers and heavy weaponry in the disputed area. Just days after Wang’s visit, the U.S. announced its top diplomatic and defence officials will meet with their Indian counterparts in Washington in early April, reminding India that it has options other than being pulled into China’s orbit.