On LAC, China’s intent is clear
India’s growing frustration over China’s refusal to take forward the process to end the 17-month-long standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was on display in the unusually blunt statement issued by the country following talks between senior military commanders of the two sides on Sunday. The Chinese side “was not agreeable” and “could not provide any forward-looking proposals” in response to India’s constructive suggestions to end the faceoff at remaining friction points on LAC, the statement said. In the past, such statements have been more ambiguous, nudging the Chinese side to take forward disengagement and de-escalation in order to put the relationship on an even keel. A spokesperson for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) contended India is making “unreasonable and unrealistic” demands and said the Indian side should instead “cherish the hard-won situation” in the border areas — an indication that Beijing has no immediate plans to pull back its troops.
In the weeks leading up to the latest military talks, there were reports of fresh face-offs involving Chinese troops in the Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh sectors of LAC. These were perceived as efforts to test India’s defences in these regions. The Indian military will now have to prepare to deploy tens of thousands of troops for a second winter along LAC while maintaining a vigil to ensure there are no further attempts to alter the status quo in the border areas. China’s intransigence on the LAC issue is not an entirely new gambit and fits in with a playbook it has used in border disputes with other countries — for instance, building islands in disputed regions of the South China Sea, deploying military assets on them and presenting them as a fait accompli. The standoff in eastern Ladakh also goes against the trend of China resolving most recent face-offs along LAC following talks spread over several months. It is almost as if China is bent on enforcing its 1959 claim line for LAC with no regard whatsoever for India’s position.
The stance adopted by Beijing on the LAC standoff fits in with the belligerence on display in China’s other disputes, ranging from trade differences with the United States and Australia to the unusually large incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. India has no other option but to batten down the hatches and strengthen its partnerships across the Indo-Pacific to stand up to China’s machinations.