The standoff at the India-China border is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Both sides are engaged in narrowing differences on competing territorial claims along the un-demarcated Line Of Actual Control but it will take weeks of hard negotiations — and some give and take — for the current impasse to be resolved. China violated the LAC and moved into the Indian territory early in May. The Indian border guards were caught napping. Fear of the coronavirus, it seems, made them lower their guard when the Chinese occupied Indian-controlled territory in the course of their annual exercises. It is not the first time that China has breached the unwritten agreement to respect the LAC. Since the 1962 war, when India was made to pay a heavy price for the wrong-headedness of the Nehru-Menon combine, the Sino-China border has periodically seen minor and not-so-minor clashes. Despite efforts to negotiate a settlement, the two governments have failed to settle the dispute. But both governments realise that an escalation of armed hostilities would ill-serve their respective national interests. The point: neither country, nuclear powers both, wants a full-scale war. Yet, China would not adopt a reasonable stance so that the decades-old border can be demarcated to the satisfaction of both countries. Having acquired economic and military muscle, it now projects that power through its robust foreign policy. But India appears equally determined to safeguard its territorial interests. India may well lag behind Chinese in military and economic prowess, but there is no question of it not defending its turf to the hilt. India is certainly not like China’s smaller neighbours whom China most brazenly bullies. Therefore, a complete withdrawal of the PLA from the territory it occupied early last month has to be a non-negotiable demand. Heightened nationalist sentiment in India will not accept anything less. Besides, the BJP prides itself on being fiercely protective of territorial integrity and national interest. The 2017 Doklan standoff over the Chinese building of a road on the border with Bhutan which would have endangered India’s strategic passage to the North-East through what is called the Chicken’s Neck in Siliguri was finally resolved to New Delhi’s satisfaction after months of negotiations. Now, it is the Chinese who object to India upgrading its road and air infrastructure, connecting the border with an all-weather Daulat Beg Oldi road. The PLA moved in nearly three kilometres into the Indian side of the LAC in eastern Ladakh. They also violated the LAC at four other points. After the local level talks between the rival sides failed to yield result, these were upgraded to the level of the Corps Commander. The first round resulted in both sides pulling back their troops by a kilometre or two at a couple of points, but there was no withdrawal by the Chinese from the crucial Pangong Lake in the vicinity of the Daulat Beg Oldi road. The talks are likely to resume in the next few days.
But whether it is part of the duplicitous Chinese policy or reflects a sincere desire to resolve the dispute peacefully, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman did say on Wednesday that the two countries had ‘reached agreement’ on the ongoing border tensions, leading to ‘partial disengagement’ from some points on the LAC. He further stated that the two sides had decided to handle the situation ‘properly’ and in ‘line with the agreement.’ It is hoped that eventually the Chinese will pull back to their side of the LAC, including at the critical Pangong Lake. Xi Jinping’s need to project strength at home and abroad might stem from the fact that he has arranged to have himself anointed President-for-life, but his need to keep the rivals in the Chinese Communist Party under check cannot be allowed to menace the world. The manner in which the autonomy of Hong Kong is sought to be eroded, or the mishandling of the Wuhan-origin virus which is now tormenting the global community, has lost China a lot of public goodwill. Its unprovoked aggression against India cannot redound to its credit in world councils either. India is capable enough to sort out the problem bilaterally, but it helps that the large global community stands with India on this wholly unwarranted Chinese incursion on the LAC. Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi will be well-served if he ceased behaving childishly and sarcastically questioning about the situation on the LAC. What prevents him to go and seek the information from the Chinese Ambassador with whom he was holed up at the height of the Doklam standoff and had lacked the courtesy of keeping the Indian Government informed?