Three days after The Indian Express reported the quiet phone call between US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and External Affairs minister S Jaishankar, Pompeo on Wednesday confirmed that he had spoken with Jaishankar a “number of times”. He also said that the Chinese troops took “incredibly aggressive action” and that the Indians have “done their best” to respond to that.
Referring to China’s new territorial claims with Bhutan, Pompeo said that Beijing has a “pattern of instigating territorial disputes”.
“The world shouldn’t allow this bullying to take place, nor should it be permitted to continue,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington DC.
Asked about the situation between India and China, he said, “I have spoken with Foreign Minister Jaishankar a number of times about this. The Chinese took incredibly aggressive action; the Indians have done their best to respond to that.”
The Indian Express had reported on July 5 that Pompeo had called Jaishankar after the June 15 clash between Chinese and Indian troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, when tension between the two sides was at its peak. There have been at least three occasions since March when Pompeo and Jaishankar have interacted over phone, but this call in late-June was the first after the clashes in Galwan, which killed 20 Indian soldiers.
It was kept under wraps for “strategic reasons”, since Indian and Chinese sides were engaged in talks between June 22 and 24.
Pompeo on Wednesday said, “I put this in the context of (Communist Party of China) general secretary Xi Jinping and his behaviour throughout the region — indeed throughout the world. I don’t think it’s possible to look at that particular instance of Chinese Communist Party aggression in isolation. I think you need to put it in the larger context…when I was up there once before, we talked about the number of maritime and boundaries disputes with the Chinese Communist Party is engaged…
“I think it’s unequaled any place else in the world; there aren’t many neighbours that can satisfactorily say that they know where their sovereignty ends and that the Chinese Communist Party will respect that sovereignty.”
“That’s certainly true now for the people of Bhutan, as well,” he said.
Pompeo said, “This is what the world must come together to respond to — this increasing revisionist effort the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in, something that (US) President (Donald) Trump has taken incredibly seriously.”
He said that the US had not done that in previous administrations. “We responded to this in a way that we think is appropriate, and we have attempted to communicate to the Chinese leadership that we are serious about this.”
Pompeo’s reference to the Chinese territorial claims on Bhutanese territory comes days after it emerged that Beijing had claimed the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in eastern Bhutan as its own territory. Bhutan has rejected the claims, and plans to respond to it when the next border talks take place with China.
There has been considerable disquiet in Delhi over Beijing’s recent claims on Bhutanese territory, which has never been brought up in the previous 24 rounds of boundary talks.