Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Have India-China talks at the LAC hit an impasse?

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Have India-China talks at the LAC hit an impasse?

This week on Worldview, we discuss whether India-China talks at the LAC have hit an impasse

This week, India China talks at the LAC took an acrimonious turn at the 13th round of talks between military commanders at Chushul-Moldo, a process that began in June last year to try and de-escalate tensions, disengage troops, dismantle infrastructure built close to the LAC and reduce the number of soldiers on  both sides from the points of contention.

The Indian readout from the talks said clearly that the situation had been caused by China’s attempts to alter the status quo, that China should take appropriate steps to restore peace at the LAC. It also said that Chinese side was not agreeable to India’s constructive suggests and also could not provide any forward-looking proposals. “The meeting thus did not result in resolution of the remaining areas.”

The Chinese government statement, accompanied by tough rhetoric from state-aligned media said that India had made “unreasonable and unrealistic demands”.

Why is this indication of an impasse?

1. The language of official statements during the 13 rounds so far is clearly stronger and more accusatory than in the past. And unlike previous statements, it does not speak about continuing dialogue, simply saying they will maintain communication.

2. Unlike the 12th round, which saw a joint statement being issued, the 13th round has separate unreconciled statements.

3. The commander talks followed the second meeting between Foreign Ministers at Dushanbe… and the stated failure reflects on a failure of high level communication as well.

4. The 13th round came amidst reports of more flashpoints with Beijing:

– a clash at Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang, that resulted in Indian forces taking Chinese soldiers captive before releasing them.

– and a bridge in Uttarakhand’s Barahoti, where Chinese soldiers came in and broke up infrastructure built before leaving.

– India rejected China’s objections to a visit by Vice president Venkaiah Naidu to Arunachal Pradesh, asserting its was an integral and inalienable part of India to China’s contention that it was a disputed area.

5. Since the Chinese military build-up was first reported in Delhi in mid-April 2020, talks between the two sides have resulted in some disengagement- primarily at Pangong lake, Galwan valley and Gogra, with buffer zones being set up at some points. This time they were discussing the contentious and strategically critical Patrolling Point 15- PP15 at Hotsprings, and the lack of movement here could hold up the whole disengagement process.

Unless another round is concluded differently, the failure of the 13th round means Armies on both sides will spend the second consecutive winter in freezing difficult conditions at the LAC.

The government must come clean on number of issues:

1. The failure of talks means the failure of India to convince Chinese troops to revert to old positions from newly occupied positions in a diplomatic manner. It is necessary that this is stated clearly.

2. In a very difficult manoeuvre, claimed as major leverage gain by the Army at the time, Indian troops had managed to claim heights in the Kailash ranges including Rezang La and Rechin La south of Pangong lake last August- the government must explain why India agreed to withdraw those troops during the initial rounds of talks in February on disengagement, giving away this leverage at the beginning of the process rather than waiting for China to show good faith on other areas.

3. Prior to the Chinese incursions, PM Modi had held 18 rounds of talks with Chinese President Xi, including two informal summits lasting hours and hours- the government has yet to explain what sort of understanding they shared on the LAC and resolving boundary issues.

4. The military and government have consistently stated facts that they have later recanted and denied stories later confirmed. For eg:

-In mid-May 2020, military and political leadership said the Chinese aggression at the LAC, including two violent clashes was not unusual and resulted from  “differences in perception of the Line of Actual Control”. However 18 months later it is clear that China has occupied large tracts of land, installed infrastructure that is far from normal.

-In June 2020, defence officials were quoted widely saying that Chinese troops had vacated PP 15 at Hotsprings and were clearing PP 17a or Gogra post. Yet Gogra post disengagement only took place after the 12th round of commander talks in August 2021.

5. To date…the statement of PM Modi on June 19 2020, days after the Galwan killings, where he said Nobody has entered Indian territory has not been updated. EAM Jaishankar has said that China has amassed troops on its side of the LAC, but not explained why this alone has merited 13 rounds of talks.

Remember, there is an international context to the situation at the LAC, and the reason India’s actions are watched closely:

1. Growing US-China tensions, that appear to want India to commit more clearly to one side. This will also be watched on China-Taiwan tensions, where India has declined to comment on the Chinese decision to send nearly 150 planes over Taiwan’s ADIZ.

2. There is the increasing militarisation of the  Indo-Pacific, where China is increasing bases, and sending its blue water navy to new ports in the Indian Ocean region. On the other side, the US has alliances, as its newly announced AUKUS grouping to ensure more nuclear propelled agile and hard to detect submarines at Australia’s command. Any spark on India’s continental front will make India’s moves on the maritime front more strained.

3. Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in a strong position to rule 2 months after ousting the Ghani government, and India faces a new threat alongside growing violence in Kashmir, the unpredictable LoC, and the now active LAC.

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