If India-China De-Escalation Is Slow, Will Tempers Flare Up Again?

The key argument is India must ensure its defence-preparedness to face any conflict situation at the border.

Updated14 Jul 2020, 11:32 AM IST
Opinion
6 min read

A week since the disengagement process began in some standoff points in eastern Ladakh across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) including in Galwan Valley, India and China are expected to now start talking about more contentious issues.

According to sources, the Army’s 14 Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, and Commander of the South Xinjiang Military District, Major General Lin Liu, will meet tomorrow at Chushul, to take forward the process of disengagement, with focus now shifting to Pangong Lake and Depsang area.

The military dialogue will importantly also chalk out modalities and timelines to reduce troop build-up along the LAC, including tanks and artillery deployed in the forward positions. “We have agreed on the need to disengage because troops are deployed very close to each other. Disengagement and the de-escalation process has been agreed (upon), and it has just commenced. It is very much a work in progress,” said External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on Saturday, 11 July, while addressing the India Global Conference.

Here is a look at some key developments since the violence in Galwan on the night of 15 June that led to casualties on both sides, with 20 Indian jawans dead. The violence was a huge setback for consensus which had been arrived at between the two sides at the 6 June military talks. So far, three rounds of meetings have happened between the Military Corps Commanders on 6, 22 and 30 June.

Slow Disengagement Begins, Armies To Talk De-Escalation

The Corps Commanders of the Indian Army and Chinese PLA will meet for the fourth time this week. This, even as middle-level officers are taking stock of the first round of disengagement on the ground that started a week ago, and was reportedly completed in PP (Patrol Point) 14 (Y Nala) of Galwan Valley, 15 (south east of Galwan) and 17A (Gogra) on Thursday (9 July).

Sources have claimed that there are no Chinese soldiers on the Indian side in these areas. A 3-km buffer zone between the two armies has been created, following mutual disengagement at the affected areas in Galwan, Gogra and the northern bank of Pangong So. Some partial troop withdrawal has also been reported from Hot Springs with some 50 soldiers being retained by both sides till the next round of military talks.

A limited disengagement of troops has reportedly occurred at the northern bank of the 135 kilometres glacial lake – Pangong Tso – where PLA troops and Chinese boats have moved away eastwards towards their own side of LAC. Patrolling by both armies has also ceased in the affected areas by both sides, to prevent any further escalation.

Snapshot
  • The key argument is that India needs to ensure its defence preparedness to face any eventuality or conflict situation at the border, even as talks continue for timely disengagement.
  • A limited disengagement of troops has reportedly occurred at the northern bank of the 135 kilometres glacial lake – Pangong Tso – where PLA troops and Chinese boats have moved away eastwards towards their own side of LAC.
  • After the creation of buffer zones and partial disengagement, the verification on the ground – that the terms have been agreed upon mutually – will be key to the third stage of de-escalation.
  • But will the mistrust between the two military troops on the ground allow for a timely de-escalation, or will it be a long haul?

India claims the LAC till Finger-8 ,some 6-8 kms east of Finger-4. Meanwhile in Delhi, several rounds of defence consultations continue with CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) Bipin Rawat, and Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, among the key strategists. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh carried out a comprehensive review of the situation in eastern Ladakh on Friday (10 July), along with the CDS and the three service chiefs. At the meeting, the readiness of the Indian Army in Arunachal and Sikkim was also reviewed, according to sources.

Earlier, Rajnath Singh had travelled to Moscow to attend the Victory Day Parade where India reportedly asked Russia to accelerate the supply of missiles, ammunition and assault, including the S400 missile shields whose delivery was reported to have been delayed till December 2021.

The key argument is that India needs to ensure its defence preparedness to face any eventuality or conflict situation at the border, even as talks continue for a timely disengagement and de-escalation with China. 

PM Visits Leh, Political Engagement Dialled-Up, Two SRs Talk

Following an all party meeting on 19 June, where PM Modi kicked up a political row and added to the confusion about the ground situation by saying that ‘no outsider was inside Indian territory in Ladakh nor had any border post of the Indian Army captured by outside forces’ , the prime minister landed in Leh on a surprise visit on 3 July. Without naming China in a strongly-worded speech PM Modi said that the ‘age of expansionism’ was over.

He had said, addressing troops in Nimu, and later visited the military hospital in Leh and interacted with soldiers injured in the Galwan violence:

“Friends, the age of expansionism is over; this is the era of development… whenever we have seen expansionist tendencies, these have spelt danger for world peace.” 

Two days after the PM’s surprise visit to Leh, the two Special Representatives on the Boundary Question – NSA Ajit Doval and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi – held a nearly two hour-long conversation. It signalled the dialling up of political engagements with an understating reached on the disengagement process to be followed by troops on both sides. India, in its formal statement on the SR talks, asked for strictly observing and respecting the LAC status, while China again blamed Indian troops for the Galwan violence, but otherwise struck a conciliatory tone.

Diplomatic & Back Channels At Work

Preceding the Doval conversation with Wang Yi, Dr S Jaishankar had also spoken to him as his counterpart just two days after the Galwan violence. Diplomatic efforts are on to defuse tensions amid military talks on the ground.

The WMCC (Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination) on India-China Border Affairs also met again on Friday (10 July), virtually led by Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the MEA on the Indian side, and Wu Jianghao, Director General of the Department of Boundary & Oceanic Affairs, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The MEA statement said after the meeting:

“Both sides will ensure complete disengagement of the troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas in accordance with bilateral agreements and protocols.” 

The WMCC previously met to reflect on the ground situation on 5 and 24 June. India is still in touch with major powers and key partners, including the US and Russia on the border situation with China. The envoys of US, Russia, Japan, Germany and France in Delhi have been briefed by Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, following which the ambassadors also expressed their condolences for the Indian jawans killed in the LAC violence.

Jaishankar has had more than two rounds of conversations with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on the subject. Meanwhile, in a video message released on Friday (10 July), Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, struck a conciliatory tone – saying that the two nations should be ‘partners, not rivals’, and the ‘sensitive and complicated’ border dispute created by history should be solved by ‘a fair and reasonable solution mutually acceptable’, signalling Beijing’s willingness to reduce tensions –– even as the Chinese state media remains belligerent.

Key Questions Yet To Be Answered

After the creation of buffer zones and partial disengagement, verification on the ground – that the terms have been agreed upon mutually – will be key to the third stage of de-escalation.

But will the mistrust between the two military troops on the ground allow for a timely de-escalation, or will it be a long haul?

If the process is slow-drawn, is there a guarantee that tempers on the ground will not flare-up again – or there will be no further escalation of violence like in Galwan in other sectors? The most important question that remains is of restoration of status quo ante, which would mean that the Patrolling Points would be opened up on both sides as it existed in April 2020.

Also, the military structures between Finger-4 and Finger-8 , north of Pangong Tso, (built by the Chinese) have to be removed. Will both sides agree upon the definition of status quo ante – as it existed in the first place – to implement it later?

(Smita Sharma is an independent journalist and tweets at @Smita_Sharma. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Published: 13 Jul 2020, 10:30 AM IST
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