LAC standoff | India-China border tensions unlikely to escalate, say former diplomats

Former National Security Advisor (NSA) M.K. Narayanan. File   | Photo Credit: V. Ganesan

The ongoing border tensions with China along several points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are unlikely to escalate into a conflict with China, two former senior Indian officials said on Friday.

Also read: China’s media slams Trump over border comments, says he is ‘driving a wedge’

“The most important thing is to not view every single border skirmish as the beginning of another war,” said M.K. Narayanan, former National Security Adviser who also previously served as the Special Representative on the boundary talks. “We should be careful in not being driven by, I’m sorry to say, what the media and many people are saying.”

Mr. Narayanan said the problem with China was because “we have an undefined and undemarcated border” with differing perceptions of the LAC.

“Both sides have by and large tried to follow the political parameters and guiding principles we agreed to in 2005. Until such time as the border is finally demarcated, we will face some kind of problem or the other. It is true once we strengthen infrastructure on the border it may seem to the other side, that we are more or less saying we have demarcated the border without formal concurrence, so therefore this may well be the reason why there is a certain amount of skirmishing.”

Also read: China says situation at India border ‘overall stable and controllable’

Vijay Gokhale, who was Foreign Secretary until January 2020 and is a former ambassador to China, said the communication between the two leaders through the informal summits in Wuhan in 2018 and in Chennai in 2019 had helped build trust. Relations had been strained in 2017 during the Doklam stand-off.

Understanding, trust

“I have seen media reports which suggest because something is happening on the LAC, there is somehow a breakdown in informal communication that the two leaders have. I beg to differ on this. Whenever leaders talk, the chances of mishaps are minimised,” he said. “I believe after 2017, the two summits have created a certain degree of understanding and trust. It doesn’t mean we have solved every problem. Two leaders together can’t solve every problem in two meetings, but I believe the trust they have created will prevent a mishap from happening.”

Also read: China accuses India of trespass, Line of Actual Control heats up

Both former officials were speaking at a webinar organised by the Chennai International Centre.

Mr. Narayanan said he was of the view that neither China nor India wanted conflict. “Both sides tend to play, in our case chess and for the Chinese weiqi [or Go, a strategy game]. And between the two, we are caught in a hotspot in many ways. It is too much to call this a military stand-off. It is true both sides have strengthened their troops. As someone who has seen this situation developing over 50, 60 years, one needs to look at the whole issue calmly. The last thing we want is a conflict and I am fairly certain while China wants the rest of Asia to feel they are superior to India, I do not think it will be through firing guns across the border.”

Strategic autonomy

On the question of whether India should continue following “strategic autonomy” as opposed to aligning with the U.S., Mr. Gokhale said, “The only way forward for us given our size is to have decisional and strategic autonomy. That does not come just from a large military but from a strong economy and being technologically capable of being autonomous. We are too big and influential to be non-aligned in any possible Cold War 2.0 in the same way we were in Cold War 1.0. We should be aligned, but align ourselves on issues, not ideology. If it suits us to align with a country or a particular group of countries on a particular issue, we must align with them to protect our own national interest.”

Also read: India rejects China’s claims of trespass

He said India needed to ensure sound relations with major powers. “Besides the U.S. and China, we must revive our relationship with Russia. We must not forget this was the only country which stood by us in difficult times and even today the only country which transfers technology in certain sectors which no other country does, albeit at a cost. We should also not ignore Europe.”

On 5G, Mr. Gokhale said the issue was not just about whether or not to allow Chinese firms, but a broader question about India’s autonomy. “The debate on 5G is not whether we should have Chinese or Western technology, both are intrusive and invasive and we don’t control either. The question is do we pump enough money into Indian research and development in order to ensure a certain strategic autonomy.”

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 8:15:18 PM |

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