Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The 14th round India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting was held at Chushul – Moldo border meeting point on the Chinese side on 12th January 2022. While the talks were going on, The COAS, Gen Naravane in his annual press conference stated that the border issues need to be resolved. The war is the last option and the Indian Army is fully prepared. Muscle flexing and testing the resolve of the adversary and mind games across the board are dynamic processes, they need watchful eyes & assessment to ensure that a minor incident doesn’t spiral out of control.
The official press release, post the 14th round of meeting, has stated that representatives from the defense and foreign affairs establishments of the two sides were present at the meeting. The two sides had a frank and in-depth exchange of views for the resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western Sector. They agreed that both sides should follow the guidance provided by the State Leaders and work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest. It was noted that this would help in the restoration of peace and tranquility along the LAC in the Western Sector and enable progress in bilateral relations. The two sides also agreed to consolidate on the previous outcomes and take effective efforts to maintain the security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector including during winter. The two sides agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue via military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest. It was also agreed that the next round of the Commanders’ talks should be held at the earliest.
The expectations from these talks were many considering the differences in various perceptions of the respective governments. The basic one has been that the Indian Government wanted to address the issues holistically across the board, whereas China is keen to address the issues one by one and de-link some issues. In this scenario, this needs to be driven top-down by the Political Leadership as this would involve “a give and take”; the question is, how much each side is prepared!
The bloody clash of Jun 2020 in Galwan valley and the sacrifice made by Col Suresh Babu and his band of braves while inflicting heavy casualties on the PLA rocked back the smug assumptions of the Chinese forever. In Aug 2020, when Indian soldiers took possession of the 6 or 7 peaks on the Kailash ranges overlooking Moldo, it made the Chinese to carry out a semblance of a withdrawal from the Finger points in the Pangong Tso region. This bold Indian move demonstrated a strategic resolve and direct signaling to the Chinese that changing the status quo along the LAC is a “two-way street”. Prof Kondapalli mentioned recently in a webinar that in Eastern Ladakh, there are 23 other such areas where India could do a “Kailash Range type operation” against them again! India may have to exercise such options if we are to get the Chinese to pull back from recent encroachments in the Gogra- Hot Springs areas.
On 23rd October 2021, the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopted the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) first dedicated law titled Land Borders Law which lays down provisions for border protection and integration of border areas. It has 62 articles and seven chapters. The law is belligerent and is not taking into account the viewpoint of its neighbors. By legislation of this law, it has created legitimacy on the disputed territories, thus arm twisting a weak neighbor to accept its point of view. This in a way lays down rigidity on itself and leaves no room for negotiations as it’s the “my way or highway” approach.
Now that India has mirrored the Chinese deployment, the push to develop the infrastructure and weaponry has been the focus so far. China has been developing the border villages and creating various grounds to stake claims to the disputed territories. In a recent such attempt On 30 Dec 2021, China announced standardized Chinese names for 15 places in the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh, to be used henceforth on official Chinese maps, to step up its territorial claims. CCP/PLA hired actors to depict the Chinese flag flying at Galwan, the fake images of PLA soldiers in summer uniform on 01 Jan2022 was a dead giveaway. The Indian Army ADGPI gave a quick riposte on posting the true picture of Indian Army soldiers at ground zero at Galwan.
The Chinese economy may be a shade better but nevertheless, it is burdened by its trillion-dollar NPA’s and in its quest to de-throne as the only superpower of the globe, and it has spread it self-thin and thus exposing many of its vulnerabilities.
India by itself may not be able to match the Chinese on a global platform; however, it can squeeze the sea lines of communications through its domination, effectively by itself. The naval exercises with friendly foreign countries are effective in keeping the PLA Navy under check.
The Chinese seem to be playing us for a time as they consolidate on the gains they have made. Unless we remain eagle-eyed across the entire stretch of the LAC from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, they will throw a surprise at us somewhere!
Every meeting is not likely to lead to some tangible outcomes. The positive of this meeting has been that both sides are talking peacefully and have mutually agreed to carry the dialogue forward. Under the current circumstances, it would be pertinent to remain alert and thwart the PLA attempts to gain moral ascendancy. Indian Defence Forces will remain deployed and have to work out plans of rotation of troops, the pandemic challenges, rest and recreation as the LAC is cold desolate terrain and its immense natural beauty wears off fast when deployed for long periods of time.
Out-of-the-box thought process – Why don’t we change the narrative through all modes of media by referring to this entire region as “China Occupied Ladakh” (CoL)! If on the western border we are calling it Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), the Eastern border should also reflect the reality of the Indian government claim rather than British colonial history or old cartography. This change of narrative will put China on the back foot and over a year’s time, the CoL acronym should become our only nomenclature for this region instead of LAC or Aksai Chin! Aksai Chin belongs to us and we should never give up or dilute our claim!
“A nation that pretends to be bully, need to be dealt with a firm hand”.
(Commodore Vijesh Kumar Garg, VSM is Executive Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. The views expressed are personal.)