The recent meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Wang Yi, Director of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee at Astana, Kazakhstan is making big news. Different headlines read: “Strategic India-China Dialogue”, “India-China Discuss LAC”, and “India-China Agree to Normalise Relations”.

Some reports have emphasised the “warm handshake” between Jaishankar and Yi; although expressions of both in the photograph showing them shaking hands are sombre or at best bland.

According to the media, Jaishankar met Yi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit on July 4, 2024 and told him that India and China should redouble efforts for “complete disengagement” of troops and restoring peace and tranquillity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as part of efforts to normalise ties.

Also, Jaishankar laid out India’s imperatives for resolving the border issue, including respecting the LAC, and reiterated that “mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interest” will continue to guide bilateral relations.

After the meeting, Jaishankar posted on X: “Discussed early resolution of remaining issues in border areas. Agreed to redouble efforts through diplomatic and military channels to that end. Respecting the LAC and ensuring peace and tranquillity in the border areas is essential. The three mutuals – mutual respect, mutual sensitivity and mutual interest – will guide our bilateral ties.”

A readout from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) noted the two ministers agreed that prolonging the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side, and said that Jaishankar had “highlighted the need to redouble efforts to achieve complete disengagement from the remaining areas in Eastern Ladakh and restore border peace and tranquillity in order to remove obstacles towards return of normalcy in bilateral relations”.

The two ministers “agreed to continue and step up” meetings of diplomatic and military officials to take forward discussions to resolve the remaining issues at the earliest.

The MEA brief says much more but is this not different from coverage of the meetings Jaishankar and Yi have had since China invaded Eastern Ladakh in April-May 2020? Besides, this particular meeting appears to be a casual handshake on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Astana. Had it been a “strategic India-China dialogue”, as is being trumpeted, photographs of the two ministers sitting together to discuss the same would have been flashed all over.

The fact is that India-China relations have deteriorated to such an extent that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not want to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in-person at the SCO Summit in Astana. Notably, in the SCO Summit in Uzbekistan (September 2022), attended by Modi and Xi, China distributed maps showing Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as part of China and J&K as part of Pakistan, as tweeted by former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy in 2022. China is now assuming Chairmanship of SCO.

The US played another card by sending the Pelosi-led delegation to meet the Dalai Lama in order to rile up China. This was despite the fact that the Pelosi delegation could have met the Dalai Lama when the latter was in the US for medical treatment.

China has given no comment on the instant Jaishankar-Yi meeting. But on the boundary question, China has repeatedly been saying that it does not “represent the entirety of China-India relations, and it should be placed appropriately in bilateral relations and managed properly”.

Notably, China redrew the LAC in Ladakh in 2020, crossing West of its 1959 claim line which India had never recognised. Indian troops can’t patrol 26 out of 65 patrolling points (PPs) although these were established years back short of the AC.

It does not matter that India denies any loss of territorial control in Ladakh and continues to ask for more and more military-to-military talks and Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination (WMCC) meetings in order to keep the public guessing. China is happy with this because the PLA is well entrenched in the new locations that are being fortified further.

China holds all the aces having emerged as India’s largest trading partner and benefiting $100 billion annually through bilateral trade with India. Disengagement from the LAC will remain a chimaera because China has given enough indications that the PLA will not move back any more. China has even deployed drones to monitor and deny any patrolling by Indian troops even in the buffer zones which are all in Indian Territory.

Lt General Prakash Katoch is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed here are the writer’s own.