Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui on Monday said Sino-Indian ties cannot take the strain of “another” Doklam and mooted a “trilateral” China-India-Pakistan dialogue, on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) conference, to resolve regional issues and maintain peace.
Mr Luo floated the idea of trilateral, with China playing the mediator’s role between India and Pakistan, at a seminar organised by the Chinese embassy on “Beyond Wuhan: How far and fast can China-India relations go”.
Last year, the Indian and Chinese Armies were engaged in a face-off at Doklam in Bhutanese territory for more than two months before the issue was resolved. China regards Doklam as its territory, but Bhutan claims it to be within its boundary.
Referring to the precedence of a China-Russia-Mongolia trilateral, the Chinese envoy said, “Why not Pakistan, China and India together hold another trilateral summit?” He said that the trilateral suggestion had been made by “some Indian friends” and that it was a “constructive idea”.
Indian government sources reacted cautiously to the trilateral dialogue suggestion while an official said it was the personal view of the Chinese envoy.
Mr Luo’s comment is also being seen as an attempt by China to play a more balanced and even-handed approach while dealing with India and Pakistan. Yet, it also makes is clear that Beijing cannot abandon Islamabad just to further ties with New Delhi.
Observers say that China is nudging the Pakistan Army subtly to drop its hostile attitude towards India and adopt a more conciliatory approach.
Any offer of trilateral dialogue with both China and Pakistan will have its benefits and pitfalls.
China could act as a moderating influence on Pakistan and encourage stopping hostilities against India at the Line of Control (LoC) but India may come under pressure from the two all-weather friends on issues such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which New Delhi has been resolutely opposing since it passes through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is a personal view of the Chinese ambassador. We have no knowledge that this is an official Chinese proposal,” said a Indian official source.
Referring to last year’s border flareup, the Chinese envoy said that bilateral ties between India and China can’t take the strain of another Doklam episode and emphasised the need to find a “mutually acceptable solution” on the boundary issue.
“We cannot imagine what would have happened to the bilateral relations if the Donglang (Doklam) issue had escalated last year. We (the Sino-Indian relationship) cannot stand another Donglang incident,” he said.
The two countries “need to narrow differences” but “this does not mean that differences will be ignored”, he said.
Mr Luo also suggested that India and China should think about signing a treaty of friendship and cooperation whose draft was given to the Indian side about 10 years ago.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held consultations at an informal summit in the central Chinese city of Wuhan a few weeks ago, in an effort to repair the post-Doklam ties.
The Chinese envoy said Mr Modi and Mr Xi are also likely to meet on the sidelines of the Brics Summit and G20 Summit later this year.
Mr Luo’s comments on Doklam are being seen as a message from Beijing that ties may not be repaired again if there is a similar military stand-off in future.
Both India and Pakistan had become members of the SCO last year, a central Asian regional grouping, and attended their first meeting as members of the grouping in the Chinese city of Qingdao recently.
The suggestion on the trilateral dialogue is being seen as an effort by China to broker peace between India and Pakistan whose bilateral ties have deteriorated sharply over the past two years.