India - China: Both Unyielding


India - China: Both Unyielding

It is understood India and China will soon hold the 12th round of Corps Commander level talks at Chushul to iron out the agreement for the next phase of disengagement in Eastern Ladakh.  Sources said that China had expressed their availability for military commander level talks on July 26, but India has asked for fresh dates.

Indian military delegates will meet to discuss disengagement at the friction areas such as Hot Springs, Gogra and the 900 sq km Depsang plains.  The build-up in Depsang was not being considered part of the current standoff that started in May last year as escalations took place in 2013. India has insisted during the recent military commander meetings to resolve all the issues along the Line of Control (LAC).

"The initial attempt will be to resolve Gogra and Hot Springs. Finding a solution to Depsang might be tricky and take longer time," said an army officer familiar with the developments.

It's been three months since the 11th round of talks between the two countries. During the 11th round of Corps Commander level talks, the focus was on disengagement in the friction points like Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang.  On February 20, Indian and Chinese military held the 10th round of dialogue to de-escalate tension along the LAC.

China has been enhancing military infrastructure across the LAC. Looking at it, India has changed its posture towards China, and unlike its previous defensive approach that placed a premium on fending on Chinese aggression, India is now catering military options to strike back and has reoriented its military accordingly.

India has reoriented around 50,000 troops whose main focus is on the disputed borders with China.  This reorientation of the troops will lessen the number of soldiers dedicated solely to Pakistan, while at the same time, more acclimatised troops who can be shifted from the northern border to the western border with Pakistan will be available to Indian military planners.

This gives the Indian defence establishment a higher level of maneuverability and flexibility vis-a-vis its neighbours.


No forward movement

There has meanwhile, been no forward movement since external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met in the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe on July 14 and agreed that the meeting of military commanders should be organised as soon as possible.

“The two leaders agreed that the next round of commander level talks should be convened at the earliest, wherein the two sides should discuss all the remaining issues and seek a mutually acceptable solution,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. “There was also an understanding that both sides will continue to ensure stability on the ground and neither side will take any unilateral action that could increase tension,” he said.

Differences had emerged between the two sides following the meeting in Dushanbe. While Jaishankar said both sides should speedily resolve the remaining issues on the LAC since the standoff was negatively impacting bilateral ties, Wang contended that the situation in the border areas had de-escalated and the two countries should set aside the standoff to expand bilateral cooperation.

Bagchi noted that Jaishankar had told the Chinese side that “both sides had agreed that a prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side and that it was visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner”. Jaishankar also emphasised that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas has been the “foundation for the development of ties” since 1988.

“Attempts to change the status quo last year, which also disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements, have inevitably affected ties. It was, therefore, in mutual interest that the two sides work towards early resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols,” Bagchi said.

The Indian side has insisted that there has been lack of progress in disengagement and de-escalation of frontline troops following a limited drawdown on the north and south banks of Pangong Lake in February. Last month, India again blamed China’s actions of amassing troops in border areas and attempting to alter the status quo on the LAC for the standoff.

It is obviously that External affairs minister (EAM) S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi did not yield any ground at the July 14 Dushanbe meeting.

Although the disengagement from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso is complete, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has not restored the April 2020 status quo from both Gogra and Hot Springs posts. The other issue is the restoration of full patrolling rights to the Indian Army in Depsang Bulge as the PLA has virtually blocked the ingress route in this sensitive area which saw heavy fighting in the 1962 war. Even today both the armies deployed on either side of the LAC with support elements of tanks, rockets and artillery.

While Jaishankar was firm  that normalisation of ties could only happen after the resolution of the East Ladakh LAC contentious issues, Wang indicated that Beijing wanted the parallel diplomacy of the 1980s to be exercised, where the LAC issue would be put on the back burner for local commanders to resolve while the bilateral ties were restored to pre-2020 days with economic ties taking priority.


Expect intermittent wars

China obviously does not appreciate India’s position.  It is a new China that India is confronting. In his keynote speech  on July 1 at the centenary celebration of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) session, President Xi Jinping admonished foreigners that they would have their “heads bashed bloody against a Great Wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people”, if they attempted to “bully” China.

He also warned Taiwan and its “foreign” friends of “resolute actions” against “Taiwan independence”, as reunifying it with China was the Party’s “historic mission and unshakable commitment”. Likewise, the CCP considers Arunachal Pradesh to be part of China, as the southern part of its Tibetan province.

In the view of Swagato Ganguly (editor, Times of India), there is  “abundant evidence that China intends to dominate its periphery; as a consequence New Delhi will face intense pressure from Beijing, which will wax and wane over the medium term. To ride this out New Delhi must take a leaf out of Beijing’s book and learn to play the long game. This could include intermittent wars, both on the LAC and the LoC. Indian foreign policy, and its military, will be tested as never before.”


China  seeks to influence India’s neighbours

In the circumstances, writes G Parthasarathy (Chancellor, Jammu Central University & Former High Commissioner to Pakistan), “there  have been contentious debates on whether India should discard its policy of non-alignment in an emerging world order that is getting increasingly dominated by an aggressive China………In its effort to contain India, China has made it a point to back political parties and leaders across South Asia, who it believes are anti-India. This was evident in recent years in Nepal, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka. This Chinese strategy does not always work, as most South Asian leaders now see no gain in unnecessarily offending India. Moreover, leaders like Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh and the astute monarchy in Bhutan are too experienced to be influenced by such Chinese efforts……..”

China also has territorial and maritime boundary disputes with 18 countries across its land and maritime boundaries, “but, instead of displaying unity to counter China’s territorial ambitions, ASEAN countries are divided on how to deal with China’s territorial claims.”

It is evident, states Parthasarathy “that rather than seeking to resolve differences across its neighbourhood in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, China seeks to impose its will on others, with whom it shares land and maritime borders. This is despite the fact that there is no dearth of groupings like ASEAN and BIMSTEC that are seeking to promote regional economic cooperation. China, however, wishes to enforce its rules when it comes to its territorial claims. It is in this background that given China’s links with the Taliban, it is only appropriate for India to strongly back the democratically elected Ghani government in Afghanistan.”

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