In a key development, the External Affairs Minister of India, S Jaishankar while addressing the nation on Thursday, touched upon the country’s rough status quo equation with neighbouring state China, and the future course of action in respect to the same. Citing the 1988 consensus, from which China departed in 2020 with the heightening in tensions post Galwan, the minister said that the two countries are presently at ‘crossroads’, and which direction it will go in the future will depend on whether China chooses for or against adhering to the 1988 consensus.

What we saw last year was China departing from the 1988 consensus. The relationship is at a crossroads and which direction we go depends on whether the Chinese side will adhere to the consensus: EAM Dr S Jaishankar on India-China relations — ANI (@ANI) May 20, 2021

The 1988 Consensus, and clash of 2020

In December 1988, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a historic visit to China, the first such visit by an Indian Prime Minister in 34 years. One of the key decisions that the leaders of the two countries reached back then was that, given that territorial disputes could not be resolved in the near term, Beijing and New Delhi should nonetheless set aside their differences in order to explore expanding ties in other areas, of which trade became one of the top priorities. It led to a series of agreements, starting with the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993, setting in place confidence-building measures (CBMs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and a commitment not to change the status quo before the border was settled.

While the two countries continued to work together in other fields, China began to develop infrastructure along the border, which is also known as the Line of Actual Control, and when India followed the same line and constructed a new road to a high-altitude airbase, it did not go down well with China. Tensions were evident, and ultimately led to the clash on the Sino-Indian border in Ladakh in June last year, the first in the last 45 years. The clash had led to serious injuries on both sides. Almost a year to the clash, while disengagement has taken place at Galwan Valley and the southern and northern banks of Pangong Tso, stand-offs and tensions continue in at least four other locations in Eastern Ladakh — Depsang Plains, Hot Springs, Gogra, and Demchok.