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SOURCE: HT

The disengagement and de-escalation process between Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a “work in progress”, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday. Jaishankar’s remarks, made during an appearance on India Global Week, a three-day virtual event organised by a UK-based media house, reflected the differences that persist between the two sides despite the decision made by them almost a week ago to pull back troops from key friction points along the LAC.

Asked by the moderator of the event about the border standoff with China, Jaishankar said: “What’s just happened is that we have agreed on the need to disengage because the troops on both sides are deployed very close to each other.

“So there is a disengagement and a de-escalation process which has been agreed upon. It has just commenced. It’s very much work in progress. At this point, I really wouldn’t like to say more than that.”

During the third virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs on Friday, India and China said they would push forward efforts aimed at complete disengagement and easing of tensions along the LAC even as differences persisted on key issues such as Beijing’s claim on Galwan Valley.

The corps commanders of the two sides are set to meet next week for the fourth time since the standoff began in early May to decide on the next steps of the disengagement and de-escalation process.

Though both sides have pulled back their troops and created so-called buffer zones at key friction points, the presence of large numbers of Chinese troops and structures at places such as Pangong Lake continues to be a concern for the Indian side.

China’s envoy to India, Sun Weidong, on Friday said the two sides need to find a “fair and reasonable” solution to the border issue through peaceful negotiation and also work together to maintain peace and tranquillity along the disputed frontier till an ultimate settlement is reached.

Jaishankar also spoke on India’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, relations with key countries such as the US, the UK, Australia and Singapore and the emerging post-Coronavirus world order.

India is conscious of the Covid-19-related challenges ahead and the next few weeks and months will be “tough”, he acknowledged. With India the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, the country will have a role in making any vaccine for the Coronavirus “accessible and affordable and available to the rest of the world”, he said.

Referring to the UK, Jaishankar said India and Britain need to work together at a time when multilateralism is under stress and there is greater multi-polarity. Both countries have a shared world view and India sees the UK as “one of our natural partners” as it prepares for a stint in the UN Security Council from next year and takes on the chair of the G20 in 2022, he said.

In the US, four presidents with very different outlooks – Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump – all agreed on the importance of India and the need to strengthen the bilateral relationship, he said. India’s ties with the US are now “one of our key relationships”, and this will become more important in future, he added.

Looking forward to the post-Covid-19 era, Jaishankar said he expected the political trends seen during the Coronavirus crisis to accelerate. A lot of countries are “behaving more nationalistically” and people are “looking out for themselves”, he said.

“I do see a world where many arguments will sharpen, I think there will be issues of trust, there will be questions on resilient supply chains. It’s going to be a more difficult world,” he said.