The India-China standoff in Ladakh has been on for a few weeks with no signs of abating. It commenced with fisticuffs, leading to casualties on both sides and is currently at a stalemate, with both sides preparing defences.
Standoffs currently are in two locations, Pangong Tso and Galwan River valley.
Each nation matches troops deployed by the other. Army level talks have led to both forces maintaining a distance. Movement of heavy weapons and equipment by one side leads to similar moves by the other.
As stated by the government, it is preparing for a hot summer along its northern borders.
Since the standoffs commenced there has been a debate on whether Chinese forces have crossed the Indian-perceived Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Views vary depending on the source of inputs and perceptions of the LAC.
China claims that it is India which has crossed into their perceived region. Some columnists assume that Chinese forces are deployed one to three kms within the Indian perceived LAC, while others claim they were pushed back and now remain outside this region.
Crossing each other’s perceived line is a normal process.
The Global Times, a Chinese government mouthpiece stated on 18 May, “The actions by the Indian side have seriously violated China and India’s agreements on border issues, violated China’s territorial sovereignty and harmed military relations between the two countries.”
The Indian MEA stated, “Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC in the Western or Sikkim sector is not accurate. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously.”
Both nations have their own perception of the LAC, which is where opposing patrols meet, and standoffs occur.
This differing perception is because the border is not demarcated and would remain so till a solution is found, which is unlikely any time soon.
With improved communication infrastructure on the Indian side, standoffs would become a regular feature as every Chinese patrol would be monitored and attempts would be made to stall it in regions outside of what we perceive to be ours.
They would adopt similar actions towards own patrols. Since enhanced infrastructure benefits Indian forces, Chinese objections are being raised. In an op-ed on 26 May, Long Xingchun, president of Chengdu Institute of World Affairs, confirms why China seeks to stall Indian infrastructure development.
He writes, “Due to the improvement of infrastructure at the border area, the two countries have ramped up patrols, which have led to more frequent standoffs as a result.”
Evidently, China is peeved at Indian infrastructure development. China has similar territorial claim lines against few other neighbours as also in the South and East China Seas. It has always sought an opportunity to grab what it perceives to be its territory.
Chinese claim lines change as per requirements. The simultaneity of Chinese actions along the LAC on this occasion are indicative of these being implemented on directions of Beijing.
While these have not been given much coverage in the Chinese media, a few op-eds in the Global Times indicate the message which China seeks to convey by its actions. In one such message conveyed through the Global Times, China states, “India should not count on the US, to back it,” adding, “The Trump administration encourages India to be tough on China so as to provoke and profit from the China-India disputes.”
Is this the sole reason or there are others is currently not known. Since these differences cover multiple locations, solution would be through diplomatic channels.
Discussions to resolve the standoffs have already commenced. Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong stated last week, “China and India should never let their differences shadow the overall bilateral ties and must enhance mutual trust,” adding, “both sides should resolve their differences through communication and adhere to the basic premise that they pose no threat to each other.”
Lt Gen Narasimhan, a part of the NSC and a China expert, stated that diplomatic discussions have already begun. On ground there is no change. This raises the next question – whether the current standoff would lead to a conflict. Logically no nation would desire an escalation, however, with both sides digging in, it is likely to be a long haul before an agreement on disengagement is reached.
Mr MK Narayanan, a former National Security Advisor stated, “The most important thing is to not view every single border skirmish as the beginning of another war.”
The Doklam standoff lasted 73 days. At the end of the standoff, India achieved what it desired, no further construction of the road which if constructed would enhance its security concerns. China remained in the region, which belonged to it anyway, added to existing infrastructure, which was acceptable, as it remains under Indian observation and would not hamper Indian defence preparedness.
To add to the current confusion has been the offer by President Trump to mediate in the crisis.
Trump tweeted, “We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute.” Both India and China turned down the offer. The Global Times in an editorial stated, “The latest dispute can be solved bilaterally by China and India.”
The Chinese spokesperson stated, “We have been following the important consensus reached by the two leaders and strictly observing the agreements between the two countries.”
Evidently, the solution will flow from diplomacy, not from the two militaries. As M K Narayanan stated, “As someone who has seen this situation developing over 50, 60 years, one needs to look at the whole issue calmly,” adding, “We should be careful in not being driven by, I’m sorry to say, what the media and many people are saying.”
Finally, are words of wisdom from Kofi Anan, “You can do a lot with diplomacy but of course you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up by firmness and adequate force.”
That is the Indian approach and needs to be supported. The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.