India-China Border Tension: Next round of high-level talks next week, India needs to be cautious, say experts

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Published: July 9, 2020 4:01 PM

India needs to be watching the PLA actions along the 3800 km of the LAC and not be limited to Ladakh, as the Chinese deceit is well known and we shouldn’t be surprised,” Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd), observes.

In the second round, the focus will be on withdrawing of warlike stores like tanks, guns, missiles, and a large number of troops.

The stage is getting set for another high level military talk between India and China later this month. Talks at Lt General-level commanders of both the countries responsible for carrying out the most complex de-escalation of the build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, is expected later in this month to discuss the next round of de-escalation,” said a senior officer on condition of anonymity.

In the second round, the focus will be on withdrawing of warlike stores like tanks, guns, missiles, and a large number of troops.

What to expect from the next round of de-escalation?

Though there is no confirmation about the dates of the next high-level meeting, most likely they will talk about the timeline of withdrawing in the second stage which is part of the three-step pullback process. This has been agreed to by both sides in the previous meeting.

As has been reported earlier before initiating the next stage the two sides will physically verify the ongoing process of creating a 3-km buffer zone at the LAC. The creation of a buffer zone is part of the three-step process of pulling back and it will be between the Indian and Chinese troops.

Present Position

Reports indicate the presence of fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, rocket launchers, artillery guns and tanks, on both sides of the LAC.

According to a senior officer who wished to remain anonymous, “long-range artillery guns are still deployed 2-3 km away from the LAC.” Also, it is estimated that around 45,000 troops have been deployed by either side along the LAC.

The scheduled meeting later this month will be led by Leh-based 14 Corps Commander Lt Gen Harinder Singh who will meet his counterpart of the South Xinjiang military region.

De-escalation along LAC

Says Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd), “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.” This African proverb reminds me that Leaders on either side of the LAC need to be aware of how their actions affect those they manage on the ground.

The LAC has been quiet and mercifully so as in the end its talks at all levels that end a dispute/feud. The PM Modi’s visit to Nimoo, Ladakh was a bold move and it rallied the Nation in Unity against the aggressive designs of China and its political and military leadership.”

In his view, “Post the physical confrontations in May and June, the PLA continued to build-up and deploy troops along the LAC and the focus remained the general area of Ladakh.”

So, what does this de-escalation mean?

“While everyone is entitled to his / her point of view, to be seen at a Strategic Level, it is to arrest the “ventury effect” of being drawn into an armed confrontation. The business of warfare is best left to the professionals serving in the various echelons of the government and they know best how to do their job,” opines Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd).

“The Chinese did not deploy their troops on a whimsical thought. Their actions are well thought out. The talks between the senior-most Generals in the area of operations (limited to Ladakh at the moment), is to ensure that the respective Governments point of view is conveyed while not stating it in the English / Chinese language; that if the push comes to a shove; the Indian Army is well poised, acclimatized and has built up adequately for any eventuality,” he says.

“The pull back of the combat troops will be well thought out keeping the terrain and the weather conditions in mind. The Chinese to that an extent at Galwan had to re-organise their defences more due to the safety and security of the troops deployed in the valley – giving them a face-saving in view of the ongoing talks.

A battle is fought with the Combat Arms being supported by Combat Support Arms and Logistic Units. In this case, the Combat Support Arms may be pulled back and the Combat Arms – primarily infantry may relocate as per the agreed-upon “No Man’s Land” for the time being. Armour and Artillery may fall back in depth as required.

India needs to be watching the PLA actions along the 3800 km of the LAC and not be limited to Ladakh, as the Chinese deceit is well known and we shouldn’t be surprised,” Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd), observes.

Other Views

Sharing his views on the diplomatic level talks expected to take place soon, Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, says, “The forthcoming India China diplomatic talks are just a series of a long process of military and diplomatic engagements that these two countries will have to undergo in the coming weeks and months. That the two armies decided to withdraw in the previous meeting does not mean that an agreement was reached on the issue of establishing the status quo ante. It simply meant that the two sides agreed to talk further on the crucial issue of de-escalation.”

“Till the time an agreement is reached, they want to avoid any repetition of a disruptive incident like June 15. Chances of mishappenings and accidents remain high given the simmering tension between the two armies. They want to create a positive atmosphere for the dialogue to continue without any hindrance. That was the reason a buffer zone was created between the two armies in all three hotspots of Patrolling Point 14 in the Galwan Valley, Gogra Hotspring and Pangong Lake area. This creates a safe distance between the two armies as the patrolling has also been suspended for the time being. It clearly indicates that the sides are hopeful of positive outcomes through dialogues,” Prof Rajan opines.

However, the devil lies in the detail, and one is not sure how China will come to terms with India’s continuance of the construction of border roads and infrastructure in that area.

In conclusion Prof Rajan says, “China will have to agree to restore the status on LAC as it existed in April. Any agreement short of that won’t be acceptable to the Indian side. It would be interesting to see what India offers in return as a compromise. Any durable agreement even in the Ladakh sector would require several rounds of military and diplomatic negotiations. At the moment, they are only trying to disengage, release pent-up tension and create a positive milieu for dialogues in future.”

While sharing his view Prof Rajesh Rajagopalan, School of International Studies, JNU, Delhi, says, “These dialogues are useful but it is difficult to make out if there is much progress given the very limited information that we have, and considering that a lot of it is also contradictory. It does appear that there is some withdrawal from the area of confrontation in the Galwan river valley, but there are no doubts about where the LAC is, which is surprising since we were led to believe that there was no difference between China’s and India’s perception of the LAC at the Galwan river. More importantly, there appears to be other reasons also for China’s withdrawal from this point, especially because the river is in spate. Equally important, it is unclear if there is any withdrawal happening in areas critical to India, such as at Pangong lake, where China has taken over a significant area.”

US Reaction

According to Prof Rajagopalan, “The US appears to be much more forthright in its statements this time, compared to the Doklam crisis. Considering that there has been a lot of high-level contact between US officials and India, it is quite possible that India has green-lighted this. It is possible that India is signalling to China that it does have powerful friends. If so, this represents a change because India traditionally has not wanted others, even friends, to say anything, fearing it will complicate its negotiations with China.”

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