Will PLA resolve East Ladakh now that 20th Party Congress is over?

Nov 14, 2022 10:02 AM IST

While the dates of the 17th India-China senior military commanders meeting is still be to be finalized, there is positive outcome expectation on resolution of remaining two military friction points as political pressure after conclusion of the 20th Party Congress of Communist Party of China (CPC) may have eased as President Xi has got the third term.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar at the HT Leadership Summit last Thursday made it amply clear that Beijing had to commit to past border agreements and refrain from unilateral military action along the 3488 km long LAC to restore normalcy in otherwise soured bilateral relations.

Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Army Chief Gen Manoj Pandey described the situation as “ stable yet unpredictable” on East Ladakh LAC as the PLA may have disengaged from five out of seven fiction points on the 1597 km LAC but de-escalation is still to take place as Chinese Army is packed up in occupied Aksai Chin with two extra divisions deployed along with border guards division and support artillery-rocket elements on stand-by.

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It is quite evident that PLA reserve elements are stationed at key points across Demchok and Daulet Beg Oldi and can be pushed into action if the red flag goes up. Gen Pandey is currently on a three-day trip to France.

While the 25th WMCC meeting on India-China border affairs took place on October 15, all eyes are on the 17th round of senior military commanders meeting expected to take place on November 20 even though the dates are still to be finalized. The 17th round of military talks assumes importance as this is the first bilateral meeting after the conclusion of the 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which gave a third term to paramount leader Xi Jinping, and the reconstitution of the apex Central Military Commission (CMC).

The sudden elevation of eastern theatre commander Gen He Weidong as the second vice chairman of the CMC perhaps indicates that President Xi wants to focus on Taiwan and East China Sea. This observation may hold true as Taiwan is experiencing frequent incursions of Chinese fighters and warships in the past few days. Apart from President Xi, the CMC does not have any civilian member from the Chinese Communist Party.

While the joint statement post WMCC meeting indicated positivity from both sides to move towards normalization after resolution of military friction points, the task is onerous as PLA may not like to give up total control of Depsang Plains in the DBO sector and CNN junction in Demchok by restoring legitimate patrolling rights of the Indian Army. Both the friction points predate the latest Chinese transgression on April 2020 in Galwan, Gogra-Hot Springs and Pangong Tso sectors.

Rather than rely on joint statements, the Modi government and the Indian Army are waiting for words to be translated on ground as there is no let up in PLA build-up along the East Ladakh LAC with Chinese Army strengthening military garrisons in Xiadullah across the Karakoram Pass in Western Xinjiang and at Shiquanhe across Demchok in Tibet.

However, the only positivity that flows out of conclusion of the 20th Party Congress last month is that Beijing and PLA Western Theatre Commander may be more politically flexible to accommodate some demands from the Indian side as President Xi has got another five years as undisputed king of Chinese Communist Party (CPC).

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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