Unless it erupts into an open shooting war, the country should be prepared for a prolonged period of tension at the China border. Resolution of the crisis perpetrated by the Chinese aggression this April will be a long-drawn-out affair. We should be prepared for false alarms, tensions and panic situations. Given the nature of the challenge, India will have to display both determination and national unity to ensure that the status quo ante is restored.
The Chinese claimed that on Monday night the Indian troops fired at a PLA platoon and they had to immediately take counter-measures to stabilise the situation. The statement by the spokesman for the PLA Western Theatre Command, Colonel Zhang Shuili, accusing India of crossing the LAC and entering Bangong Hunan, the western section of the border, was countered by the Indian Army. In a statement, the latter said that at no stage did India transgress the LAC or resort to use of aggressive means. Instead, it accused the PLA of carrying out aggressive manoeuvres 'while engagement at military, diplomatic and political level is in progress'.
It is clear that the PLA was surprised by the Indian troops occupying the strategic heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso and Rechin La a week ago. This gives Indians a commanding view of the terrain overlooking the Chushul sector. Since then the PLA has looked for ways to undo the Indian advantage. Last week, the two defence ministers met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Group’s meeting in Moscow in the wake of the Indian move to occupy the strategic heights. The Chinese expressed anger at the Indian action, suggesting India was the aggressor.
It is in this context that Foreign Minister S Jaishankar’s statement that the border situation was “very serious” ought to be read. Not since the 1962 war had the border situation been so tense. He is likely to meet his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, this week in Moscow on the sidelines of the SCO foreign ministers’ conference. This will be the first time since the start of the border hostilities in May that the two will meet in person, though they have held virtual meetings a number of times to resolve the border tangle. It is important for the two sides to prevent further escalation and pull back troops from the LAC.
With winter approaching, sustaining the troops in an eyeball-to-eyeball position will entail huge human and material costs. A modus vivendi needs to be found by them to lessen tension, and above all, to preclude chances of an accidental trigger to armed hostilities. Neither country will gain from such a confrontation. Political leaderships of the two countries owe it to their people to find mutual ground for cooperation and peace at the border. As the aggressor, the Chinese should be able to withdraw without losing face.