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Insights into Editorial: Step by step: On India-China LAC stand-off

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Context:

India has firmly conveyed its demand to China for restoring the status quo as existed in April along the border during the senior military commander talks.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the talks were held in a “cordial and positive” atmosphere, and both sides will continue the military and diplomatic engagements to “resolve the situation”.

What is the reason behind the India-China standoff?

According to various news report, the India-China face-off was triggered by India’s construction of a new observation point in the Finger area.

China then sent a large number of troops which led to a scuffle near the Pangong Tso lake on the intervening night of May 5-6.

India’s construction of a 60-meter bridge across the Galwan rivulet in Depsang Plains triggered another dispute.

Varying perception of LAC worsened conflict:

China’s move to mobilize troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the border areas to stop construction activities on the Indian side has been strongly opposed.

The conflict was also fuelled by differences in the perception of the LAC in Eastern Ladakh.

Reportedly, there are 12 areas of differences between the two countries in the perception of the LAC.

Restore status quo ante, don’t violate laid down agreements: India to China:

  1. With official talks getting under way over the weekend, the month-long stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim has entered a more considered phase.
  2. However, statements from both sides that the talks will continue indicate a desire to resolve the situation.
  3. India pressed for restoration of status quo ante, as on April and also cited how China was in violation of all agreements, protocols and laid down drills relating to maintaining ‘peace and tranquillity’ along the LAC and for conduct of soldiers.
  4. Also New Delhi’s military officials asked the PLA to demolish all structures that it has built in disputed areas along the un-demarcated LAC. The stress was at the area called ‘finger 4’ north of the Pangong Tso – a 135 km glacial-melt lake.
  5. The MEA and the MFA have also reiterated their commitment to abide by agreements between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which came after the last big stand-off, at Doklam in 2017, to not allow “differences to escalate into disputes”.
  6. During the Doklam incident, even after a meeting between the leaders on the sidelines of a G-20 summit, it had taken several high-level engagements to ensure a drawdown to the 73-day stand-off.

India is sensitive to China but won’t allow change in any border sector:

  1. At the 2019 informal summit between India and China at Mamallapuram, on the periphery of Chennai, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping decided to celebrate the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations in 2020 by deepening exchanges at all levels between the legislatures, political parties, cultural and youth organisations, even the militaries of the two countries.
  2. The two leaders also decided to organise 70 activities, including a conference on a ship that would trace the historical connect between the two civilisations.
  3. Still, with both leaders previously committing to not turning bilateral differences into disputes, it would be in the interest of both parties to withdraw to their respective base camps in Eastern Ladakh as there is no way that India is going to allow China to make unilateral changes in either of the sectors.
  4. The PM Modi government will also not come under pressure from China on its legitimate border infrastructure upgrade, which is happening well within its own territory.
  5. After 21 rounds of hardly productive Special Representative Dialogue on the resolution of the boundary issue, it is time that the two sides at least exchange maps of the western and eastern sector so that the two armies know each other’s positions on the ground.
  6. The two leaders need to keep their communication channels open as both their bureaucracies and militaries carry a huge historical baggage and cannot think beyond protecting their silos.
  7. The direct channel will assume further importance as the succession of the Dalai Lama is on the horizon with China expected to come up with its own candidate as it did in the case of the Panchen Lama.
  8. The two most-populated nations in the world, the countries with the first and second largest armies in the world, cannot be adversaries forever.

Stand-off can be resolved quickly through talks:

  1. Given the differences between the situation now and previous incidents, it would be naive to assume that this stand-off can be resolved quickly through talks.
  2. The stand-off is at more than one location, including the Finger areas of the Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Gogra post in Ladakh and the Naku La pass in Sikkim, and it will require careful study to decide how to de-induct soldiers.
  3. Furthermore, a “status quo ante” will require that Chinese soldiers vacate areas where they have dug in for weeks now.
  4. Nothing short of their full withdrawal should satisfy India, which means that more than talks on the ground and by diplomats, there is a need for strong political direction from Beijing to the PLA to do that.
  5. Otherwise, India must prepare for a long-drawn stand-off, and manoeuvres aimed at ensuring China’s pull back.
  6. In addition, even as the government tries to analyse the reasons for China’s aggressive action, it must introspect on signals it misread and warnings that went unheeded across its strategic command.
  7. If such skirmishes normally follow the melting of snowlines, for example, then why was the LAC not adequately manned in April-May?
  8. Serious notice should have been taken of China’s protests on the redrawing of the Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh maps, as well as the impact of the Home Minister’s vow in Parliament to “take back” Aksai Chin.

Conclusion:

The Defence Minister has said that Chinese troops arrived in “heavy numbers” and therefore the government must also study what intelligence was received ahead of such movement, and when action was taken upon it.

Finally, why has the stand-off emerged at all, after the intense summit-level conversations in Wuhan and Mamallapuram to discuss building trust at the LAC?

Given the government’s silence on events thus far, it is unlikely that it will put out answers to these questions publicly, but in any event, they must be sought.

 


Insights Current Affairs Analysis (ICAN) by IAS Topper