During the last military level talks India proposed ‘comprehensive ‘disengagement, that covers all the friction points along the LAV and addresses future problems. However, China turned down Indian proposal on its head, and, it wants de-escalation first and then disengagement. During the talks, China had insisted that India vacate the southern bank positions first. India on the other hand demanded that the both banks be vacated by both the sides to mutually agreed positions…

China has proposed that tanks and artillery support should be mutually withdrawn first so that vertical escalation is averted in case of an accident.

The Indian position on the other hand is that there should be comprehensive disengagement of troops through a phased withdrawal, a verification process, and then a de-escalation. The disengagement, New Delhi has maintained, should involve troops going back to their pre-April 2020 positions along the 1597 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. Once this happens, de-escalation can follow.

Experts say that in pure military terms, thinning out of artillery and tank support from the friction points does not work in favour of the Indian Army as the PLA has built roads right up to Beijing’s perception of LAC and has the capacity and capability to deploy much faster than Indian armour.

According to senior officials, the Indian Army will have to remain deployed in the heights of East Ladakh through the winter, till the PLA decides in favour of disengagement and restoring status quo ante. “The Indian Army has been trained in high altitude deployments and will be on guard till the situation is mutually resolved. The Indian position is comfortable and well-defended,” military experts believe. While the PLA has come up to its perception of the LAC on the north banks of Pangong Tso and Gogra-Hot Springs, the Indian Army has come up to its perception of the LAC on the south bank of the high altitude salt lake with troops sitting on the Rezang La-Rechin La ridgeline.

India’s national security planners are debating how the tense situation will play out in the future. One school of thought is that the China will try and placate India through talks till the November 3 the result in the US Presidential elections are declared. Essentially this means that right now, China is focused on US moves vis-a-vis Taiwan and will focus on India after the result in the US Presidential elections.

The other school of thought among is that the PLA aggression on LAC has nothing to do with the US Presidential elections as the friction started in Galwan-Gogra-Hot Springs in April, when the American elections were not even on the horizon. People believe that the PLA move on LAC is aimed at restoring the November 7, 1959 line and punishing India for publishing the Ladakh map on November 2, 2019. The aggression has partly to do with the internal situation in China with the spread of coronavirus from Wuhan, the resulting impact on the economy, and the ensuing political ferment. While China’s internal political situation is expected to ease rather than exacerbate, the pressure on LAC will continue for time to come. The findings of this school of thought is supported by remarks of Chinese official in different forums.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, in response to a question at a daily briefing on India unveiling new bridges as part of upgrading the border infrastructure in Ladakh and in Arunachal Pradesh, blamed India for the LAC situation, and said Beijing did not recognise the legality of Ladakh, a position Beijing took last year as it opposed the creation of the Union Territory because it included within its borders Aksai Chin, currently occupied by China.

“First, I want to make it clear that China does not recognise the Ladakh Union Territory illegally set up by the Indian side and [does not recognise] Arunachal Pradesh,” said the spokesperson, Zhao Lijian. “We stand against the development of infrastructure facilities aimed at military contention along the border area. Based on the two sides consensus, neither should take actions along the border that might escalate the situation to avoid undermining the two sides efforts to ease the situation.”

He stated, “For some time, the Indian side has been ramping up infrastructure development along the border and stepping up military deployment, which is the root cause for the tensions between the two sides. We urge the Indian side to earnestly implement our consensus and refrain from actions that might escalate the situation and take concrete measures to safeguard peace and tranquillity along the border.”

 

Present scenario of infrastructures developed by both countries near LAC.

China has already upgraded its border infrastructure in Tibet and Xinjiang, and enjoys an asymmetry in its favour. It is also in the process of extending its railway network in Tibet up to the border. India has been moving to speed up the construction of roads and bridges to reduce the gap.

In the last five years, India has been focusing on improving road and other key infrastructure along the LAC as part of efforts to bolster military preparedness to deal with any challenge from the Chinese side.

It is learnt that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has conveyed to top military brass that there was no need for reviewing the implementation of any of the key projects along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand or in Arunachal Pradesh in view of the aggressive behaviour by Chinese troops in several sensitive areas.

India laying a key road in the finger area of Pangong Tso Lake region besides another road connecting the Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Galwan Valley.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday inaugurated 44 permanent bridges across seven States and Union Territories built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). He said the bridges provide improved connectivity and would meet the transport and logistics requirements of the armed forces throughout the year.

 

Stalemate Continues

While both India and China asserted that discussions were on through military and diplomatic channels, the stalemate on the ground continued.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) spokesperson Zhao Lijia said on Wednesday in Beijing that the China-India border area situation is “overall stable and controllable now” and it can be resolved “properly though dialogue and consultation.”

The fact remains that India and China are locked in a nearly five-month-long border standoff in eastern Ladakh. Despite the formation of Joint Working Groups and appointment of special representatives to deal with the issue, there has been no fructification of talks.