In the run-up to BRICS summit in South Africa to be held on August 22-24 which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend, another round of talks took place between India and China. The Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held talks on 14 August to ease the persisting tension along the Line of Actual Control. This was the 19th round of Corps Commander level talks almost four months after the last one held on 23 April.
Despite multiple rounds of talks, the problems at Depsang in Daulet Beg Oldi sector and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector are still to be resolved. Besides, after four rounds of disengagement from Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso, Gogra (PP-1A) and Hot Springs (PP-15), the Indian and Chinese armies still have more than 60,000 troops each stationed in Ladakh Theatre.
From the available reports, there was no forward movement in talks on 13 and 14 August held at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Indian side except both countries agreed to resolve the issues in an expeditious manner. A joint statement issued on Tuesday, the 15 August, reflected such intent while keeping up the momentum of dialogue and negotiations through military and diplomatic channels.
The focus of the meeting apparently was on confidence building and adhering to border protocols and sharing of patrol information between troops of both sides. Reportedly, India had pressed for access to all old patrolling points along the LAC. Note that Indian soldiers used to patrol PPs 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13; the Chinese has blocked the Indian passage to these points. The Chinese have been blocking Indian patrols that go on foot beyond the bottleneck area or ‘Y’ Junction. While the Indian Army can go ahead using force to reach its traditional patrolling points, it has avoided doing so not to create any new conflict. Indian patrols can reach the ‘Y’ Junction by road also. However, travel beyond the ‘Y’ Junction is possible only by foot through two routes which originate from the Junction itself.
The north route, along the Raki Nala, goes towards PP10 and the southeast route goes towards PP13 along the Jiwan Nala. The Chinese claim about 1.5 km here from an Indian military camp in an area called Burtse. Indian forces also have been blocking Chinese patrols from going beyond the ‘Y’ Junction. In 2015, the Chinese army had intruded right upto the claim line before retreating.
Overall reduction in troop capacity in Ladakh region was also raised by India. There were discussions on committing not to construct new posts in the immediate vicinity of the LAC. Regular interaction at battalion level and avoiding violation by drones on either side also came up for discussion.
The latest round of talks has perhaps been prompted by the impending meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. A meeting on the sidelines of BRICS summit in Johannesburg is not ruled out. Also, the Chinese President is expected to be in New Delhi for the G-20 summit in September. In July, on the fringe of G-20 Summit in Indonesia, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping discussed the need to normalise bilateral ties on the border issues. New Delhi has consistently maintained that India-China relations cannot be normalised without restoring peace and stability on the border.
At home, the Opposition parties are gunning for Modi on his incapacity to push the Chinese army back to a position of status quo. Moreover, they are questioning him on his equivocal statements on Chinese incursion into the Indian Territory. In the beginning, Modi maintained that not an inch of Indian land was occupied by the Chinese. Later, the negotiations pointed towards India asking China to roll back. At any rate, Modi’s China policy is somewhat shrouded in mystery causing people to doubt his diplomatic acumen or military preparedness or sagacity in strategic alliance building.
The government is claiming that the infrastructure and connectivity on the border has significantly improved over the past nine years. These have enhanced India’s ability to respond to China’s action along the LAC. The External Affairs Ministry has assured of India’s preparedness to counter China while maintaining dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and working out a mutually acceptable resolution of the pending issues.
The claims and assurances by the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Ministry are less than persuasive as the reality on the ground speaks otherwise. The Chinese deviously intrude into a foreign territory while agreeing to hold ‘runds of talks and negotiations’. They used salami tactics in grabbing other’s territories. Their strategy has been to forcefully trespass into say, five kilometres and retreat halfway through negotiations. In the end, they are in occupation of half of the territory intruded. Such tactics could not be lost on Indian military or political leadership.
It is worth bringing in the comments made by a Republican Congressman on how to counter China. Mike Waltz, co-chair of Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, on an exposure visit to India, said in an interview on Tuesday, that such trips expose the members of the US Congress to different aspects of the country and help them in framing policies and legislation. He urged, “India and the US have to stand together militarily, economically and democratically to counter China’s assertive behaviour across the region”. He warned that China’s action is aggressive, and it is going to become more aggressive in future.
Elaborating the point, he said that China is aggressive in Western China, in Tibet, on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Taiwan, the Philippines, South China Sea – across the board really. So, this is not just a Taiwan problem or an Indian border problem. It is a global problem. He reminded that Chairman, Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party is nudging his country to prepare for war.
Waltz’s comments came against the backdrop of the above-mentioned military standoff between India and China on the LAC which is into its fourth year since the violent skirmish in Galwan Valley in June 2020 and killed 20 Indian soldies and some Chinese troops. According to New Delhi’s assessment the casualties on Chinese side were twice of Indian Army’s although Beijing officially acknowledged that only four Chinese soldiers were killed. While the violent Galwan confrontation has plunged the bilateral ties into an all-time low, India’s strategic and defence cooperation with the US has considerably increased.
Waltz suggested that along with military and defence ties, economic cooperation between India and the US and its western allies is critically important. While relocating the supply chains, the US and the West can look at countries like India for manufacturing and other industrial outputs. I have been advocating this line, and for India, this is the way to go. —INFA