With India-China relations in fresh turmoil, former military officers and diplomats who have dealt with the communist neighbour have said that New Delhi should address the border standoff with Beijing at a political level.
The suggestion from experts comes in the wake of China’s statement that the situation was not conducive for a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany.
A former senior official of the Defence Ministry pointed out that the present situation had much in common with the tense standoff in 2013 in Ladakh, when both sides put up tents and the impasse stretched into weeks.
“We were able to resolve it peacefully because our National Security Adviser and China’s Special Representative engaged with each other,” he said, suggesting that the present dispute called for a high-level political intervention.
According to available indications, both sides have engaged at the field commander level, as well as through the Indian embassy in Beijing, over the Sikkim standoff, which began on June 16.
“The two sides have levelled allegations and counter-allegations at the political level. So any meaningful dialogue will have to commence at the political level,” former Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh told The Hindu .
“Since the Special Representatives are already in dialogue as per the existing mechanisms, it would be prudent to have the initiation of this process at their level.”
Gen. Singh cautioned that upping the ante will not be in the strategic interests of either country. “Therefore, without compromising our stated position, we should explore options for expeditiously defusing the situation,” the former army chief said.
He pointed out that the Indian position is based on the understanding of 2012, whereby any discussion on the tri-junction has to be done in consultation with the third country.
The Indian Army’s support of RGB (Royal Bhutan Army) is in conformity with this special relationship that the two countries and their armies enjoy.
Playing down the present standoff, former Army Chief Gen. VP Malik said that the media on both sides have given it undue prominence.
‘Road is the problem’
Gen. Malik, who was the Army Chief during the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan, said the problem was due to the road construction activity begun by the Chinese.
“The grazing grounds have always been there. Their grazers have been coming in and both sides have been observing each other. Claims have been there for a long time. The problem is the road,” he said. The road under construction is not desirable from India’s point of view as it would give the Chinese’s heavier vehicles access to the southern most edge of the Chumbi valley, Gen. Malik pointed out.
China analyst Lt Gen SL Narasimhan (retd) pointed out that both sides should inform the other about any impending construction activity through the border personnel meetings, flag meetings, or the hotline, as has been the practice.
Lt Gen Narasimhan added that, in the meantime, India should step up her surveillance capabilities, build infrastructure in the border areas, and further develop the capabilities to handle any such incidents in the future.