2021: A year of record trade amid frozen India-China ties over Ladakh chill

Representational Photo
Representational Photo

Beijing, Dec 24: India and China achieved a major milestone this year when their bilateral trade crossed the landmark figure of USD 100 billion but it did not generate any fanfare in both capitals as the two Asian giants are going through a “particularly bad patch” in their relations due to a set of actions by Beijing in violation of agreements that led to the military standoff in eastern Ladakh.

Starting with a modest USD 1.83 billion in 2001, the bilateral trade crossed USD 100 billion-mark in the first 11 months this year, a significant milestone for which the two countries carried out campaigns to boost trade and build it as a major stakeholder to improve the relations between two nations, whose ties otherwise remained frosty over the festering boundary dispute and strategic rivalry.

According to last month’s data from China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC), the India-China bilateral trade totalled USD 114.263 billion, up 46.4 per cent year-on-year from January to November 2021.

India’s exports to China reached USD 26.358 billion, up 38.5 per cent year-on-year and India’s imports from China amounted to USD 87.905 billion, up 49.00 per cent.

However, while the bilateral trade crossed the USD 100 billion mark, the trade deficit for the 11 months, which is of India’s major concern all along, stood at USD 61.547 billion, up 53.49 per cent year on year.

India’s concerns over the trade deficit notwithstanding, the landmark record virtually went without any fanfare as the bilateral relations remained frosty over the lingering military standoff in eastern Ladakh.

The border standoff between the armies of India and China erupted on May 5 last year following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.

As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in the Gogra area in August and in the north and south banks of the Pangong lake in February.

The two sides held the 12th round of talks on July 31. Days later, the two armies completed the disengagement process in Gogra, which was seen as a significant forward movement towards the restoration of peace and tranquillity in the region.

Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the mountainous sector.

What was stated to be a silver lining in this conflict, both sides remained engaged at the Foreign Ministers level to the top military commanders besides through the WMCC (Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination) to keep the tensions under control.

The Ladakh standoff completely stalled the relations on all fronts except trade.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during a panel discussion in Singapore in November said that India and China are going through a “particularly bad patch” in their ties because Beijing has taken a set of actions in violation of agreements for which it still doesn’t have a “credible explanation”.

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