Engage with caution: On India-China disengagement at Gogra-Hot Springs

The latest disengagement along the LAC is a welcome step, but the border crisis is not over 

September 15, 2022 12:20 am | Updated 12:42 pm IST

India and China on September 13 confirmed the disengagement of their troops from a fifth friction point in Eastern Ladakh along the LAC. With the latest withdrawal of troops from Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in the Gogra-Hot Springs area, buffer zones have now been established by the two sides in five locations, including in Galwan Valley, north and south of Pangong Lake, and at PP17A in Gogra. The arrangements in the four earlier established buffer zones have so far helped keep the peace over the past two years. No patrolling is to be undertaken by either side in the buffer zones, which have been established on territory claimed by both India and China. The latest disengagement came just three days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Uzbekistan.

Reflecting the current state of relations, the two leaders have not directly spoken in more than two-and-a-half-years, an extraordinary situation for the world’s two most populous countries. Whether they meet at the SCO Summit — as of September 14, neither side had confirmed or ruled out a meeting — or at the G20 in Indonesia later this year, India will need to proceed with caution as it inevitably resumes high-level engagement with China. While the buffer zones may serve as a temporary measure to prevent a recurrence of clashes, the reality is that this is an arrangement that has been forced on India. The Indian military, by holding the line and showing its capacity to match China’s deployments, has been able to reverse China’s multiple territorial ingresses of April 2020 in the five areas. That has, however, come at the cost of India’s ability to access patrolling points that it was reaching previously, which, in the view of some military observers, might have been China’s game-plan all along, given the favourable logistics and terrain on the Chinese side that enable faster deployments. Moreover, China has neither agreed to resolve stand-offs in Demchok and Depsang, suggesting they pre-dated the current tensions, nor shown any intent to de-escalate, instead continuing to build forward infrastructure aimed at permanently housing a large number of troops closer to the LAC. Indeed, signs are that both sides are in for a prolonged period of uncertainty on the borders thanks to China’s decision to mobilise tens of thousands of troops in April 2020, in contravention of past border agreements. Unless Beijing reverses its recent, and still unexplained, moves to militarise the LAC and in the process undo the carefully constructed arrangements that helped keep the peace for 40 years, India will have little incentive to consider a return to relations as they were prior to 2020. The latest disengagement, while certainly a welcome step, by no means implies an end to the crisis on the border.

To read this editorial in Tamil, click here.

To read this editorial in Hindi, click here.

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