Exchange of sweets at border, Chinese Foreign Minister’s talks with Indian envoy, and booming trade between the two sides raise hopes of a peaceful relationship

The exchange of sweets at 10 posts along the India-China border on New Year’s Day and recent talks between the two sides have indicated that New Delhi and Beijing are seeking greater stability in relations and haven’t given up hopes of a breakthrough, despite the massive 1,00,000-strong troops still amassed on both sides after nearly 20 months of a stand-off and a continuing stalemate in disengagement.

The hopes of 2021, when the two sides agreed to disengage and withdraw troops from Pangong lake in February, including the heights on the Kailash range taken by the Indian army just months prior, and at Gogra, were belied later in the year. According to officials, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has refused to budge on India’s demand that they restore status quo ante by withdrawing from other areas like Demchok, Hot Springs and Depsang plains.

Unexpected Talks

Even so, the exchanges on January 1, several rounds of talks between diplomats and military commanders, and an unexpectedly upbeat farewell video conference between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the outgoing Indian Ambassador Vikram Misri last month, where both sides spoke of uninterrupted communication as the “silver lining” around the dark clouds that engulf bilateral relations which are perhaps at their worst point since the 1980s, are indications of both sides seeking an improvement. It is particularly significant that the exchanges took place in areas such as Demchok and Depsang that saw PLA troops occupy land claimed by India, leading to criticisms that the Modi government may be looking to agree to a compromise in these areas.

That Mr. Wang chose to speak with Mr. Misri, and moreover, that the Chinese Foreign Ministry sought to publicise the meeting despite the state of relations and the recently shrill rhetoric from the state media in China, was also seen by observers as significant. Mr. Misri has now taken over as Deputy National Security Adviser. “Even though certain challenges since last year had overpowered the vast opportunities in the relationship, he was hopeful that with continued communication at all levels, the two sides would be able to resolve the current difficulties”, a readout from the Indian Embassy said.