The first-ever military-diplomatic talks between India and China Monday remained inconclusive, as both sides had “candid and in-depth exchanges of views on stabilizing the situation along the LAC in the India – China border areas.”
“As China has mobilized its four theatres, India should not be taken in by the talks as this may be a part of Strategic Surprise,” opine experts.
What does the Joint Statement say?
According to an official press statement released by both the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Defence on late Tuesday evening (Sept 22, 2020) “Both have agreed to earnestly strengthen communication on the ground, avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments and to implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries. And, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, to stop sending more troops to the frontline and avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation.”
Besides taking measures to solve problems on the ground, the two sides have also agreed to hold the 7th round of Military Commander-Level Meeting as soon as possible.
And, from now on there will be Army officials accompanied by MEA officials together at the table for talks with China.
According to sources, during the 14 hours long talks, the Chinese side has refused to comply with India’s emphasis on disengagement at all the friction points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. And demanded that the Indian Army soldiers pull back from the southern banks of Pangong Tso which the Chinese side considers as its own.
Who was present during the marathon talks with China on Monday?
As has been reported the first military-diplomatic dialogue was held at the Chushul-Moldo meeting point on the Chinese side of the LAC.
14 Corps Commander Lt Gen Harinder Singh and his is would-be successor Lt Gen PGK Menon. There were more Maj Gen rank officers, four brigadiers, and colonel-level officers and translators.
And, from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Joint Secretary Navin Srivastava, who looks after China.
What do former Military officers and an Academician say?
Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd), Former DGMO, says, “The key question is whether the sixth meeting between the top military commanders at Moldo was “positive or pointless”. The joint statement does not say much except that the two sides are still working towards peace and tranquillity along the LAC. With a trust deficit, post-Galwan China will need to do much more to ensure the talks are translated to disengagement from friction points. It is obvious that as the Indian army occupies dominating heights on either side of Spangur Gap, China will be under pressure to negate the operational advantage, buying time before making another move. There are hardened positions; Indian stance is categorically seeking a Status Quo Ante whereas China will aim to consolidate the gains of forward deployment. In essence, both know and prepare for the coming winters.”
“While talks must go on, the armed forces should prepare for the long haul, irrespective of the costs. Territorial integrity and sovereignty will always come at a price given our adversarial relations with both China and Pakistan. China will find it difficult to sustain troops fully deployed along the Himalayan heights as they are not accustomed to such harsh conditions, unlike the Indian Army which has the expertise and is battle-hardened in High Altitude warfare. The contest to dominate the heights along LAC is the new normal and apparently there is no going back. The erstwhile protocols, agreements and confidence-building measures have served their purpose and mean little without mutual trust, which is non-existent. India will need to exercise vigil and an effective deployment all along the LAC from Karakoram Pass in the west to Kibithoo in the East, as China is likely to expand the area of operations. While we continue to talk, post-Galwan China can not be trusted. We need to talk from a position of relative strength, a language that China understands and that strength is derived from our deployment, build up and preparedness. Peace through Preparedness is the mantra,” Director CENJOWS, opines.
Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, says, “It has always been difficult to make sense of Chinese intentions. This problem gets compounded by the absence of reliable data on details discussed between the two sides in their meetings. The joint statements issued after the meetings are often declaratory in nature. They are mere expressions of intent, rather than binding commitments to be verified by follow-up actions. The two sides are extra-cautious in making any commitment due to the fear of public scrutiny. Hence, they issue circular and non-falsifiable statements.”
According to the JNU Professor, “Several rounds of talks at the Corps Commander levels have not made any headway in terms of de-escalation of the frontline soldiers. If the armies are caught in standoff, the dialogues at the Corps Commander-level have also reached a point of deadlock.”
“This stalemate demonstrates two things very clearly: China is not willing to retreat from the friction points; and second, the standoff is likely to continue for a much longer time than what we had expected earlier. India’s demand for a roadmap for complete disengagement, and the restoration of the status-quo ante is unlikely to be considered by China,” Prof Rajan says.
In all likelihood, China believes that the presence of the huge army in Depsang, Galwan and Pangong Tso regions will work as a wall against any further movement by Indian army towards Aksai Chin- an area sensitive to China in its strategic calculations. The Western Highway of China passes through Aksai Chin to connect the two troubled provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet. It wants to demonstrate superior capability and its preparedness for confrontation to protect its sensitive territory.
“The process of dialogue is likely to be long and arduous. One should not be in hurry to dismiss the relevance of negotiation- even when it fails to achieve the desired outcome. There are two positive takeaways from the joint statement issued by the 6th round of commander level talks: the two sides would avoid further escalation of conflict either by amassing large contingents of troops or unilaterally changing the situation on the ground; and second, the dialogue at different levels will continue,” Prof Rajan adds.
The Indian Army veteran Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd), says, “The Chinese have never had a firm stand on Line of Actual Control and the greed to grab more territory is the intent behind tall claims both in Arunachal and Ladakh.
In 1986 the Chinese made claims in Sumodorong Chu valley and now recently they have staked claim to the entire Galwan Valley. Strong Military Leadership by then Lt Gen VN Sharma (later the Chief of Army Staff) ensured that India did not lose any territory to the PLA.”
The gains made by the Indian Army both on the North and South Bank of Pogang Tso should be consolidated and no withdrawal whatsoever should take place. The Chinese follow the principle of `you give an inch they will take away a mile’.
The LAC is extensively long and the Kailash range is very long and would require huge numbers to hold effectively. The Defences will have to be coordinated and given depth as in military parlance have “mutual support”.
“With the charge being led by the US, Europe and nations in the South East Asian region, China is isolated, diplomatically, economically and militarily.
The dragon has to realise that it can’t breathe fire and make tall claims to territories that don’t belong to it. The logistician’s battle is on for the winter months while the troops prepare for a long haul. Military leadership will be tested at all levels to ensure the well-being of our troops and equipment,” concludes Lt Col Channan (Retd).