External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar today acknowledged that India was probably at the “most difficult phase of our relationship with China in the last 30-40 years or even more” in the wake of the military standoff between the two countries in eastern Ladakh.

The bilateral relationship between the two countries has been “significantly damaged” this year, he said addressing a webinar organised by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.

Today’s China is “much more nationalistic” and it could not be business as usual with Beijing as long as border face-off continued. The Chinese, he said, have brought in tens of thousands of soldiers with full military preparation to the de facto border. “Naturally, the relationship will be profoundly disturbed,” he said.

Speaking about the 15 June Galwan Valley clash between India and Chinese troops, he said “it is not surprising that something went horribly wrong” when soldiers were so close to each other on the border.

The incident has completely changed the national sentiment against China, he said, recalling that it was way back in 1975 when casualties were suffered last on the SinoIndian border.

“There has been an evolution in China … 2008- 2009 was the tipping point for that change and you have today a China whose engagement with the world is very different from the way it used to be 20 years ago,” he said.

“You could argue that it is natural for a country that goes up the power hierarchy, that its behaviour and pattern would change. I reserve my comment on it. But clearly no question that you have a very much more nationalistic China and that is expressed down the line in a variety of ways and often in policies as well,” he added.

On Sino-Indian trade, he noted that 30 years ago, there was virtually no trade with China. Today, China was India’s number two trade partner after the US.

Also, there was no travel with China but the two countries started engaging with each other in almost every domain. However, all this was dependent on the fact that while both sides were dealing with the boundary issue, there would be “peace and tranquillity” in the border areas.

While smaller skirmishes over border patrolling did take place, they were more or less resolved and there was never a “major breach” of the understanding, he said alluding to the bilateral agreements between both countries on maintaining peace in the border areas and not to bring in a large number of troops there.

“We had multiple agreements … that essentially asked both parties not to bring large forces to the boundary. Now for some reason, for which the Chinese have given us five different explanations, the Chinese have violated it,” he said.