Terms of disengagement: On India-China standoff

That India and China have agreed to stop sending more troops to the frontline is a welcome step towards hitting pause on the rising tensions along the LAC. Indeed, the genesis of the tensions lies in China’s large-scale deployment of troops to forward areas in May, and subsequent multiple transgressions in the Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake, Gogra, Hot Springs, and Depsang plains that have violated almost every core tenet of the four border agreements that have helped keep the peace since 1993. This has forced India to match the Chinese deployment, leading to an extraordinary build-up on a scale not seen since 1962. The new agreement of September 21, at the sixth round of Corps Commander talks since June, will put a stop to this build-up, that is, if it is implemented sincerely. The joint press release said the sides had agreed to strengthen communication on the ground, avoid misjudgments, and to refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, besides holding a next round at an early date, underlining that many issues remain unresolved.

If this agreement can potentially help stem the bleeding as it were, it does not address most of India’s fundamental concerns on the LAC. Prior to the talks, Indian officials had highlighted the key points of their agenda as having China withdraw from all friction points including Depsang and Pangong Tso and granting unhindered access to all patrolling points (PPs) — China has blocked access to 10 PPs since May. The joint press release makes no mention of restoration of the status quo ante of April, only referring to no unilateral changes to the ground situation, which refers to the current status quo. It is true that one or two rounds of talks cannot be expected realistically to resolve a situation that is, in many ways, even more complex than the 1986 Sumdorong Chu stand-off — and that took six years before the status quo was restored. At the same time, a second joint public statement in as many weeks is a positive development in itself, showing both have the intent to stabilise the situation, even if their motivations may be different. For the Indian government, such a statement in the midst of a Parliament session where it has faced questions over its handling of the LAC situation sends the message that the China crisis is under control. For China, the motivations could be two-fold — either a tactical pause that gives it time to prepare for further military manoeuvres, as was the case in end-August south of Pangong Lake, or a signal that Beijing wants to dial down tensions, albeit on its own terms and most likely without giving up the territorial gains it has made since May. Whichever may be the case, the reality for Delhi is that the challenge along the LAC may be far from over.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 11:26:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/terms-of-disengagement-the-hindu-editorial-on-india-china-standoff/article32689232.ece

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