India - China: Post Disengagement, Return to Love-Hate Routine
STORIES, ANALYSES, EXPERT VIEWS
Although disengagement by Indian and Chinese forces from north and south bank of Pangong Tso has been completed, it has not led to a comprehensive agreement to restore status quo ante April 2020 at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). It has also not paved the way for demarcation of the border.
Lt Gen H S Panag (former GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command; Post retirement, was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal) therefore, says the disengagement “was only a stand-alone agreement to enable both China and India to claim victory with divergent interpretation of the buffer zone between Finger 4 and Finger 8. The only leverage — securing of Kailash Range on night 29-30 August 2020 — we created in Eastern Ladakh was given up for this stand-alone agreement. Even the disengaged troops remain within striking distance of each other. No progress has been made with respect to disengagement from Depsang Plains, Hot Springs-Gogra, and Demchok at the 10th Corps Commander-level meeting held on 20 February. Troops remain in a face-off situation in these areas.” In short, China retains its leverage in Depsang Plains, Hot Springs-Gogra, and Demchok, while India has surrendered its leverage in the Kailash Range.
‘Business as usual’
Notwithstanding this, the former General believes India and China are retiring to ‘business as usual’. “China is back as India’s number one trading partner for 2020. The Narendra Modi government is set to clear Chinese FDI projects worth $2 billion in India.
A virtual Quad summit indicated limitations given each member’s complex individual relationship with China. There is concern in India about China approving mega hydro projects on lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo River (Brahmaputra) and $30 billion infrastructure projects in Tibet, several of them close to our Himalayan borders.
Both foreign ministers are meanwhile, stressing the need to manage disputes properly and enhance cooperation.
“It seems we are returning to business as usual — a love-hate relationship. China will continue to leverage the border dispute while exploiting India economically. India will cooperate economically while contesting the Chinese designs along the LAC. Both sides have learnt their lessons. China cannot militarily make India capitulate short of war, which, with uncertain outcomes, is best avoidable. The lesson for India is that it cannot be caught napping on the LAC to facilitate Chinese coercion while it bides its time to narrow the gap in comprehensive national power, particularly in respect to economic and military components. This implies permanently manning the LAC by deploying additional troops.”