Experts say fresh face-off reflects grim reality of LAC situation
India’s acknowledgement of a fresh face-off with Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) reflects the grim reality of the situation along the disputed border after several rounds of talks couldn’t take forward the disengagement process, experts said on Monday.
A statement from the Indian Army said soldiers had pre-empted “provocative military movements” by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to change the status quo in the intervening night of August 29 and 30. It added that these actions “violated the previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements” during the standoff in eastern Ladakh that had started in early May.
Over the past few weeks, after several rounds of talks between corps commanders on the ground and the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs, the differences between the two sides on the disengagement and de-escalation process have emerged in the open.
The Chinese side has even referred to both sides having “positively evaluated the progress” in disengagement, but the Indian side has insisted that the process is a work in progress and more needs to be done to take it forward.
At the last weekly news briefing of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said “complete disengagement requires re-deployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC”, which can be done only through “mutually agreed reciprocal actions” by both sides.
Former navy chief Admiral (retired) Arun Prakash said the time had come for the Indian side to do a “reality check and prepare for the worst”. He added, “It’s a grim situation.”
The Indian side, Prakash believes, has misread the situation especially since the actions of the Chinese side have often differed from it said. “They seem to have decided to restore their boundary to whatever it was according to their historical interpretation,” he said.
Significantly, the latest clash occurred on the southern bank of Pangong lake, where most of the friction in this area has been on the northern bank.
The Chinese actions also run counter to Chinese envoy to India Sun Weidong’s assertion last week that the “existing situation on the ground is under control on the whole and there is no fresh standoff between the two forces”. The envoy has even described the June 15 clash – which resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and unspecified Chinese casualties – as “a brief moment from the perspective of history”.
Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, a think tank, said the latest clash reflected the “obdurate attitude of the Chinese in resolving the standoff” along the LAC.
“The incident goes against what their diplomats have been saying. The Chinese are suing the diplomatic track to create a smokescreen while the Central Military Commission headed by President Xi Jinping is pushing the case on the ground,” he said.
Patil also believes the latest Chinese action could be part of efforts to shift the domestic narrative after several photos shared widely on China’s social media platforms purported to show the graves of Chinese troops killed in the June 15 clash.
“There have been at least four such images of tombstones and maybe the Chinese want to stonewall the domestic narrative and shift it to one of protecting national interests,” he said.
Prakash said India would need to “keep its feet firmly on the ground and look for alliances and partnerships” to tackle the challenges facing it. “If things take a military or kinetic turn, escalation won’t be in our hands,” he added.