By Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)
The Chinese have been holidaying from 1st to 8th October. The period is associated with their National day and mid-Autumn celebrations. The Chinese would have tested their tourism industry’s post-COVID resilience and capacity of hosting large tourist traffic. However, on their western borders thousands of Chinese soldiers are preparing to face blizzards, snowdrifts, minus 50-degree centigrade temperatures, hypoxia, acute mountain sickness, frostbites, chill blains, hypothermia, high altitude pulmonary oedema, and maybe even a bullet. Hopefully, all that will not have doused the fun and frolic kicked off by the National Day. If there are any indications, the CCP wants it to be business as usual. The purpose of business houses is to make money for their shareholder. The Chinese are pursuing it, relentlessly, even as another busload of bawling young soldiers are flagged off for frontlines.
The next Corps Commander level talks are scheduled on 12 October, but can we really expect anything substantial from it. Having been through talks at the highest political levels, are the Corps Commanders level talks going to offer a solution? The answer is, of course, `No’, however, these talks are essential and need to continue. A few gains from the talks so far need to be recalled.
Foremost, not a single individual on either side of the LAC, has died of violence attributable to the opposing side, post the Galwan losses. Soldiers have fired in the air, but as yet, no man has been killed by a bullet. Further, physical contact and jostling have been by and large avoided. Indians have stipulated that perimeters around the posts are to be respected and any breach will be considered as a hostile act and draw a professional response.
The Chinese commanders have reportedly pointed out to our commanders that they need a face-saving arrangement. It will tantamount to Indians surrendering their gains for the Chinese to project that their massive manoeuvres in Tibet have fetched some dividends. But, alas! It’s no better than the bitter truth they refused to learn at Doklam-2017.
The talks on 12 October will at best keep the current status quo going and avoid unnecessary bloodshed leading to a more toxic situation along the LAC. To actually reduce tensions, the large concentration of forces that both sides have undertaken in their depth areas need to be de-inducted. The LAC, at least in Eastern Ladakh, needs to be marked on the ground, and both sides provide assurances that that positions as of April will be respected as inviolable. Even these conditions may be contested by our military leaders keeping in view the fact that they have been able to manoeuvre their forces to an advantageous position especially in the Chushul sector.
In the overall context, both sides tend to gain if they return to positions in April 2020. Having made two major probing actions, Doklam in 2017 and now in Ladakh, China has to assimilate the fact that the Indian forces provide the wherewithal to their government to take a tough stance along its entire land borders. When viewed globally, China has never been as unpopular, especially among the developed nation, as they are today. COVID-19 has given a huge blow to any levels of trust that nations may have had in China. They have already bitten more than they can chew in fair weather, and these are not the best of times for them. Xi Jinping would be better advised to suppress ambitions and focus on what would prove to be the greater challenge now; pursuing growth in an unfriendly global market, vitiated by the daily statistics of Coronavirus deaths.
(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)