Simultaneous face-offs in several areas make it different this time

7 months ago 37
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The India-China border has been in the news since the beginning of May this year. The whole thing started with a face-off on the western bank of Pangong Tso. The ridge on the Northern Bank has spurs running down to the lake. These spurs are called Fingers. Eight fingers start from the Indian side and end on the Chinese side. India claims till the eighth finger and China claims till the fourth finger. The face-off happened near the fourth finger. The second incident happened at

Nakula

in Sikkim, where the Chinese side is claiming an area inside Indian territory. These two incidents were followed by the face-off in the area of Galwan Valley.
There are some differences from the past in these incidents. This time, there was near simultaneous face-off occurring in different geographical areas. Earlier incidents were stand-alone and happened only at one place. Secondly, the number of

PLA troops

involved in these face-offs are larger than the earlier incidents.
Thirdly, the aggressive behaviour is also different from the earlier incidents along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Lastly, if the incident was stand-alone, then it could have been controlled by a local commander. In this case, it appears that these incidents have been coordinated at least at the Western Theatre Command, if not

higher

. Now since the situation has aggravated, both New Delhi and Beijing are involved.
A question that comes to one’s mind is that why these incidents are happening now. The availability of troops in the near vicinity due to the exercise that was being carried out, facilitated the PLA to muster enough strength.
Second, the weather became better as winter receded. Even now sub zero temperatures prevail there. Also, the infrastructure development on the Indian side seems to have raised the hackles on the Chinese side.
Barring the first day in all these places, there was no violent behaviour that was witnessed till 15 June 2020.

Ground level talks

and higher military commanders-level talks had taken place to resolve the face-off. On 6 June, Lt General-level talks were held that resulted in a consensus for disengagement. Further discussions were to be held at the ground level to finalise the modalities of disengagement.
On 15 June, when the Chinese unilaterally violated the consensus arrived at by coming into Indian territory, a violent scuffle ensued resulting in casualties for the first time in 45 years. The Indian side suffered 20 casualties. Some of them are expected to have succumbed to extreme cold conditions. There have been casualties also on the Chinese side. Though the number of casualties has not been confirmed by the Chinese, media has come out with figures ranging from 16 to 43 casualties. This is a sad incident in the history of bilateral relations between India and China that would not have happened but for the Chinese not adhering to the consensus arrived on 06 June, 2020.
Having said this, one has to think about the course of action. The information from ground level indicates that the troops have disengaged in Galwan, where the incidents took place on Monday. However, the situation is said to be tense.
The statements that have come out from ministry of foreign affairs of China and the ministry of external affairs of India, while placing the responsibility for the situation on each other, also indicate that they would like to resolve the issue by the established mechanisms and support peace and tranquility along the border.
At the moment, talks are going on at the ground level, diplomatic level and at the government level. India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar had a telephonic conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to resolve the issue on 17 June. Both sides have agreed to resolve the issue in a responsible manner and ensure peace and tranquility along the border. It is hoped that an amicable solution will be found to the present impasse in Galwan Valley and the process of disengagement as agreed on 6 June, is carried out.
The incident that has happened in Galwan may cause some delay in that process. Both sides should ensure that such face-offs do not have adverse effect in the overall bilateral relationship between India and China.
In the meanwhile, rhetoric, rumours and speculation need to be avoided.
(The writer, Lt Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd), is an expert on China and member of the National Security Advisory Board)

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