Ahead of the first anniversary of the deadly Galwan Valley clash, an Indian analyst believes there won’t be a complete disengagement in eastern Ladakh until India feels that its border infrastructure has significantly caught up with that of China.
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The June 15, 2020, incident in Galwan Valley was the deadliest border clash between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in decades. India lost 20 soldiers while China admitted to only four casualties, months after the clash.
China’s state-run daily Global Times has published a report wherein Chinese experts spoke about the possibility of India creating a new border conflict “to shift attention from worsening economic, pandemic conditions”.
Calling China to beware of “nationalistic manipulation in India”, these experts argued that India has a “political tradition of looking for border issues to distract attention when there is a crisis at home”.
This artificially built narrative comes amid reports of China clamping down on its citizens questioning the Ladakh standoff. A popular Chinese blogger was recently sentenced to eight months in prison on account of making “slanderous” comments on the four PLA soldiers who lost their lives in the Galwan Valley clash.
Interestingly, the views expressed by Chinese experts contradict Beijing’s official statement on the border row with India.
The Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, has said that New Delhi and Beijing “need to help each other succeed instead of undercutting each other”.
Speaking at an event in New Delhi on June 9, Sun said the two sides “should respect each other, treat each other as equals, conduct dialogue and consultation and properly address differences to find a mutually acceptable solution”, adding that, “At the moment, we should focus on tackling the pandemic, reviving the economy, improving people’s livelihood, and managing our own affairs well.”
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“It is normal for countries to have differences. The boundary question is left over from history and should be put at a proper place in the overall bilateral relations. The Chinese side’s position is clear. We are committed to settling the boundary question through dialogue and consultation.
“At the same time, we are resolved to safeguard our sovereignty, security and development interests. The two sides should respect each other, treat each other as equals, conduct dialogue and consultation and properly address differences to find a mutually acceptable solution,” Sun said.
India, China Disengagement Process
At the ninth round of Corps Commander-level talks between India and China in January, an agreement was reached to disengage from the contentious north and south bank of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh.
The agreement created a no-patrol zone or a buffer zone between Finger 4 and Finger 8 mountain spurs jutting into the lake.
One of the points agreed was India’s withdrawal from the Kailash range. The official narrative of the disengagement process from the Indian side remains that the Kailash range was occupied as leverage to bring China to the negotiating table and make them go back to their April 2020 positions.
However, several analysts and the different sections of the media have been critical of India’s agreement of withdrawal.
The EurAsian Times earlier reported on the concerns mooted by the political and defense analysts on the loss of tactical advantage over the Chinese PLA stationed below in plains.
The area was the center point of the 1962 India-China war. Since then, it had remained unoccupied until India carried out an operation last August to take control of the Kailash range as a preemptive move to gain strategic advantage over China.
The 11th round of Corps Commander-level talks held in April did not make any significant headway apart from both sides releasing a protocol-mandated statement calling to “pave the way for two sides to consider de-escalation of forces and ensure full restoration of peace and tranquility and enable progress in bilateral relations”.
Other friction points such as Depsang Plains, Hot Spring, Gogra and Demchok continue to witness heavy military presence from both sides.
A Protracted Standoff
Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, told The EurAsian Times that the narrative being built by Chine towards India comes from the viewpoint that the world behaves the way China behaves.
“If India wanted to play its cards right and distract the world from ‘worsening pandemic-induced conditions’, it would have done so during the peak of the second wave and not now when the numbers are stabilizing and vaccine production in full swing,” he said.
Iyer-Mitra was referring to Global Times’ viewpoint suggesting that “if the economy and epidemic continues to worsen in India, India might start a new conflict on the border”.
“China opened the Ladakh front last year during their first peak (of the Covid-19 pandemic),” Iyer-Mitra said.
Talking about the current situation at the border, he said there is no change in the placement of the troops at the LAC but the volume of troops has been on the rise from both sides.
“A massive infrastructure push is being carried out by both sides. In the case of China, they are constructing helipads along the LAC stretching from the Kashmir-Tibet region along the length of the border up to Arunachal Pradesh. Meanwhile, India’s focus has been on construction of all-weather roads to increase the mobility of men and material”.
When asked about the future of the disengagement process, he said, “It is a misconception that the disengagement is over territory. The disengagement between India-China at the moment is about India’s right to build infrastructure.
The tactic that the Chinese employ is changing facts on the ground. For instance, they will build a structure occupying as little as 100 meters of space but over time it will increase to half a kilometer or one. They want to deprive India of doing the same.”
“The disengagement process is likely to continue for a few more years until India feels that its infrastructure has significantly caught up to the Chinese or matched their equivalence,” he added.