Beijing Won’t Have Formal Talks With India; Stand-off May Continue Till Winter: Chinese Expert

Beijing will not agree to formal talks with New Delhi until Indian troops withdraw from the position they are holding at the Doklam plateau on the Sikkim border, a prominent Chinese expert told TOI in an exclusive interview on Saturday.

The border stalemate may continue until the harsh winter sets in the area, he said.

China is trying to send a signal that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is unlikely to persuade Beijing to begin negotiations without a troop withdrawal from the Indian side during his visit to Beijing later this month.

Doval is visiting Beijing to attend a multilateral security dialogue under BRICS on July 27 and 28 and is expected to use the occasion to initiate a dialogue for ending the border stalemate.

“Our official position is that before Indian troops pull back from Doklam, there will be no talks. It (holding talks) may stir up some uneasy feelings among the ordinary people (in China) who know the recent faceoff in the border area,” Hu Shisheng, director of the government think-tank, Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanic Studies, told TOI.

The situation has become alarming because “both sides cannot afford to be regarded as a loser” by their domestic audience, he said. “There is no room for both sides to sit down and negotiate because the (Chinese) precondition is very clear,” the expert said.

“My personal feeling is that this kind of confrontation in border areas will the until climate becoming more and more inhuman. Finally, because of the weather, Indian troops may pull back, both sides may pull back,” Hu said.

But there is a possibility of some informal talks without either side admitting it, he said. “I don’t think there will be formal talk. There could be some indoor talks,” the expert said. The media, particularly the social media on both sides, are pouring fuel in the fire, he complained.

“The more transparent (the dialogue), the more disastrous, the more negative to the final settlement because the nationalism of either side could block or disturb any rational settlement of the issue,” Hu explained.

China might use other means to ensure there is no formal talks on the border issue before its precondition about troop withdrawal is met.

China has been engaged in informal diplomacy using think tank experts, and Hu is one of the prominent players in this area.

Even if soldiers on both sides pull away from the border during winter, “We cannot say this will settle the problem. In the next scenario, it (stand-off) can be repeated again. Both sides cannot afford losing face,” the expert said, adding that it is very difficult to avoid a military conflict.

Hu complained that the media on both sides are “stirring up the feelings”. He said “the traditional media could be okay, but the social media, I think, on both sides, are adding fuel to the fire”.

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