On China, India must be alert
India and China have agreed on disengagement of their frontline troops in the Hot Springs area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after months of protracted negotiations, but it is also obvious that serious differences remain between the two sides
India and China have agreed on disengagement of their frontline troops in the Hot Springs area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after months of protracted negotiations, but it is also obvious that serious differences remain between the two sides. The Indian side has sought talks to resolve the remaining issues on the LAC, while the Chinese side has said it does not recognise the status quo as it existed in the Ladakh sector in April 2020, when the current military standoff began. The Chinese side has even claimed that the status quo was “created by illegal trespassing on the Indian side” — a contention that goes against realities on the ground. Restoration of the status quo and the violation of agreements and protocols for border management through China’s action of amassing troops along the LAC are among the key issues raised by the Indian side, and Beijing’s latest assertions are unlikely to go down well with New Delhi. Hot Springs is only the third friction point where the two countries have agreed on the withdrawal of troops, and the bigger problems at the friction points of Depsang and Demchok remain to be addressed, largely due to the intransigence of the Chinese side. China has persistently refused to accept these two locations as friction points, contending they are not part of the current face-off.
This is in line with China’s efforts to unilaterally alter the status quo in regions where it is involved in territorial disputes, especially the South China Sea. It is also strange that it took nearly two months to implement the consensus evolved by senior military commanders on Hot Springs, because the disengagement involved only a low number of troops from both sides. China’s actions of rapidly ramping up dual-use and military infrastructure all along the LAC, including airports, railway facilities, roads and missile bases; conducting military drills in border areas that have focused on rapid deployment of troops from other regions; and the extensive construction of villages in disputed areas certainly do not augur well as far as the resolution of the dragging stand-off is concerned.
Both countries are yet to confirm a possible meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and the Chinese president on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Samarkand in Uzbekistan, and with the Chinese side apparently using the ongoing dialogue process only to create an appearance of stability on the LAC, there seems to be no easy way out of the impasse in the border areas.