Dr Satish Misra
Amidst news reports of a mutual disengagement between Indian and Chinese troops from some areas in eastern Ladakh ahead of military talks tomorrow (June 10), a concerted effort behind the scenes is going on to create an impression in popular minds that Beijing is ready to withdraw from areas that it had come to occupy earlier last month.
There is a discernable pattern in such statements because almost the same script with changes made in names of places existed in the past also.
“China would be content if after altering the facts on the ground, the standoff is defused, say by a limited disengagement of few meters between the troops, leaving most of the encroached territory in Chinese hands”, says former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran who obviously knows what he is saying an article published recently in a national daily.
Notwithstanding claims and counter claims made or would be made from the two capitals, the stalemate over the Chinese multiple intrusions at the Line of Control in east Ladakh between India and China that began last month will continue despite military and diplomatic engagements that will take place in weeks and months to come.
China, being a tough negotiator, does not concede an inch without return concessions, say who have dealt with China in the past. Beijing may agree to restore areas that it occupied recently but New Delhi would have to stop infrastructure development on the Indian side of LAC. China may even ask for dismantling of already existing infrastructure.
Former Foreign Secretary Saran said:” In the Doklam standoff in 2017, the forces of the two sides disengaged. China halted additional road building activity but continues to consolidate its position in the occupied area.”
Experts say that the situation is likely to continue as Beijing seems to be in no mood to restore the status quo ante as the circumstances both domestically as well as internationally are totally different now. China would vacate some area pulling its men and material and likewise India would also follow suit but in reality, China will not restore the status quo ante as existed before intrusions took place.
Well- placed sources said the problem is little complicated this time as India like in the times of Kargil has been caught unawares despite information about Chinese transgressions at multiple points coming from our military satellites. These came to notice on 5 May evening when a large group of Chinese soldiers, armed with sticks and stones, surprised a group of Indian soldiers confronting them. This led to fist fight and stone pelting and resulted in injuries to both sides. Sources said that some injuries were so severe that some officers and soldiers had to be evacuated to military hospitals.
Both Indian government as well as the Military establishment has not spoken about the 5th May incident though “injuries” have been confirmed.
Standoff is because China has made intrusions in three areas. First one is in ‘Finger’ area where 134 km Pangong lake’s northern bank juts out like a palm and various protrusions are identified as “fingers” for the purpose of demarcating the area. Here Beijing assertively claims that the LAC starts at Finger 8 and New Delhi rejects it asserting that the LAC starts at Finger 2 which India dominates. Two thirds of the lake which extends from Tibet to Ladakh is under Chinese control and the LAC passes through the Lake itself. The two sides patrol it on both at land as well as water.
Sources said that India has been building a road further from Finger 2 over the past few years which would facilitate movement of Indian soldiers in vehicles which is obviously resented by the PLA. Sources said that China has moved up its soldiers to Finger 3 to prevent Indian patrols going further. This is a clear transgression since Chinese troops are in an area that is claimed by India.
Apart from, Pangong lake, China has been objecting to Indian construction activities being undertaken 20 kms away in Galwan valley. Galwan has been largely peaceful since 1962 Sino-India border war. Experts who have closely been following 22 rounds of border talks say that it is one area where the Chinese Claim Line and the LAC match and this has been the understanding at the local level for decades. But maps have not been exchanged and therefore understanding is not formal.
Sources said that China got pissed off when India began construction activities in the area which are important to New Delhi from strategic point of view as the Indian key base Daulat Beg Oldie lies in sub-sector North in eastern Ladakh.
Besides the buildup in Galwan valley, Chinese troops have “come in” about 3 km into Indian territory south-east of the Galwan valley, also known as “Hot Springs” area in East Ladakh.
Stand off on these intrusions is going to last long because China is engaged in another serious battle of supremacy with the US. China has first provoked India and occupied area on which New Delhi lays claims and then brought India to the negotiating table gaining a bid in the process. The Cold War that has begun between the US and China that has taken sharper twists after the break out of corona virus in Wuhan and has spread globally taking a heavy human toll along with wrecking of the economy is going to ensure that Beijing does not concede anything to New Delhi at present.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is caught in a bind battling his opponents both domestically as well as internationally would not allow any advantage to India since New Delhi seems to be titling towards the US.
Moreover, Beijing would like to pin down India in the region itself and that is why both Pakistan and Nepal are being used to rake up issues that create serious trouble for India.
Indian moves to scrap Article 370 and 35 (A) raised alarm in China and Pakistan because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
India requires to admit Chinese intrusions but the Modi government is consistently denying that anything has happened because of domestic reasons. Denial gives China an advantage. Beijing uses this as its strategy.
“The bottom line-facts on the ground remain altered to China’s advantage although India’s action forestalled further ingress”, asserts Shyam Saran giving his expert opinion on the similarities that exist in eastern Ladakh intrusions and 2017 Doklam.
In short, India is not in a position to get China vacate those areas and it cannot go to a war with China which clearly means that Beijing has gained from its recent moves.
(Dr Misra is an author, researcher and senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)