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SOURCE: HT

The relationship between India and China has been “profoundly disturbed” by the first incident of bloodshed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 45 years, which had a “huge impact” on public opinion, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Tuesday.

Jaishankar made the remarks at the virtual Reuters Next conference, even as Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane told a news briefing that troops are prepared to hold ground along the LAC for as long as needed to meet national objectives. The standoff in Ladakh sector, Naravane said, will be resolved on the basis of mutual and equal security.

“After 45 years, you’ve actually had bloodshed on the border,” Jaishankar said, referring to the clash between Indian and Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in June last year that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and resulted in unspecified Chinese casualties.

“And that’s had a huge impact on public opinion and politically…really the impact on trust and confidence in India where China and their relationship is concerned. That has been profoundly disturbed,” he added.

Jaishankar reiterated his contention that China is yet to offer an explanation for deploying a large number of troops along the LAC.

“Now last year, for reasons which are not clear to us, the Chinese really brought an enormous military force to one part of the border. And then at the LAC, obviously we moved up when we saw them coming and that has sort of created friction points along the LAC,” he said.

Tens of thousands of troops from both sides have dug in for the harsh winter along the LAC, backed by artillery and armoured formations. Several rounds of diplomatic and military talks between the two countries have not led to headway in disengagement and de-escalation at friction points in Ladakh.

The deaths in Galwan Valley were the first fatalities on the LAC since four Indian soldiers were killed at Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh in 1975. Jaishankar has said several times that Chinese aggressive actions along the LAC have violated several agreements for maintaining peace and tranquillity on the disputed border.

On the other hand, Jaishankar said India’s ties with the US were on the upswing and he was confident about the direction of the relationship under the incoming Biden administration.

“When I look at many of the challenges we face, the US is going to be much more open looking for partners and I’m confident about where we are going with the relationship,” he said.

“Structurally, the relationship with the US is very, very sound, it has very unique elements, there is political convergence, growing security and defence convergence,” he added.

Shared concerns about China have led to greater cooperation between India and the other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad – Australia, Japan and the US – in recent months.

On the issue of trade, Jaishankar acknowledged that India and the US had got bogged down in details and lost the “wood for the trees”. Negotiators had worked towards a mini trade deal for months without making headway, and he said India will respond positively to any offer from the Biden administration to restart some kind of free trade talks.

Jaishankar also told the Reuters Next conference that the government will have greater clarity within the next few weeks on exporting Covid-19 vaccines after meeting domestic needs. India, he said, understands the anxieties of foreign governments with regard to getting the vaccines delivered to their populations.

“We will get clarity pretty soon on what our own consumption is going to be, (what) deployments are going to be. And we will keep our global role very much…,” he said.

“The policy of course is we will start the rollout in India. We have our own challenges,” he said. “A number of countries are in touch with us…and what we are telling them is, look, this is the first month…The production is now coming into stream. There is a certain amount of stock-taking going on.”

India is one of the world’s largest producers of vaccines and pharmaceutical products and supplied medicines and equipment to some 150 countries amid the pandemic. It is expected to be a key manufacturing centre for Covid-19 vaccines.