Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2020-08-01 10:00:45 Published on Aug 01, 2020
In China’s view, disengagement is a done thing; if New Delhi thinks otherwise, the onus is on it to do what it can.
For China, pullback Is ‘Done’. Will India raise diplomatic costs?

The remarks by China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, in New Delhi on Thursday, 30 July, and those of the official spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, in Beijing on Tuesday, suggest that in China’s view, the ball is firmly now in the Indian court.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the Institute of Chinese Studies on Thursday, Ambassador Sun declared that China’s troops were on its side – ‘traditional customary boundary line’ – on the north bank of the Pangong Tso. Ergo, he seemed to imply, where was the question of ‘disengagement’?

What’s The Broader Import Of The Chinese Statements?

On Tuesday in Beijing, the foreign ministry spokesman had said that its troops had “disengaged in most localities” and were preparing for the fifth round of the Corps Commander-level meeting “to resolve outstanding issues on the ground.”

Responding almost immediately to the Ambassador’s remarks, the Indian official spokesman, Anurag Srivastava, said that while there had been some progress, “the disengagement process has as yet not been completed.”

The broader import of the Chinese statements are difficult to miss.

From their point of view, disengagement is an almost done thing, and if New Delhi thinks otherwise, the onus is on it to do what it can.

Sun’s description of the background of the Galwan Valley clash can only heighten concerns in India, that Beijing is seeking to alter the LAC, no matter what it formally says. Following the meeting of the Corps Commanders on 6 June, the Chinese ambassador said, “the Indian side committed that they will not go… across the water mouth of Galwan Valley to patrol…”

He said on 15 June, that the Indian troops ‘disregarded’ the 6 June ‘consensus’, and “went across the LAC again”.

This is then another example of an expanded Chinese claim, considering that the LAC is a good 6-7 km from the mouth of the Galwan or the Galwan estuary, as the Chinese have been putting it.

Clearly, The Chinese Are In No Mood To Go Back

By China’s own 1960 description, its ‘traditional and customary’ boundary should pass through Finger 5. Chinese officials said that their boundary crosses the northern shore of Pangong at 78° 49’E, 33° 44’N, and the southern shore at 78° 43’E, 33° 40’N.

Instead, it is staking a claim till Finger 2, which is a good 15 km from the present claimed LAC, and another 5 km or so from where their original claim ran.

Traditionally, though maps like Google Earth show both the Chinese and Indian versions of the LAC, the fact is that till now, both have patrolled to their extent of the LAC. Now, the Chinese have created blockades at Finger 4, preventing the Indian troops from patrolling up to their claim line.

The same is true of another area which somehow evaded discussion at the webinar – Depsang. Here, a Chinese blockade at bottle-neck or Y point has prevented Indian troops from patrolling tens of kilometers of territory that India claims in a very sensitive area.

Clearly, the Chinese are in no mood to go back. What they want, as they once did earlier in 1960, is to insist on status quo, studiously avoiding any move towards status quo ante.

The Choices Before India Are Obvious. What Are They?

Just to make sure that we have actually had the door being slammed shut, Ambassador Sun also rejected the notion of clarifying just where the LAC runs. This, he said, somewhat disingenuously, could “create new disputes”.

He seems to have completely forgotten that China committed itself to clarifying the LAC through no less than three solemn agreements — the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993, the 1996 agreement on CBMs in the Military Field, and the 2005 Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for settling the boundary issue.

The choices before India are obvious.

We can persist with diplomacy, and by raising the diplomatic costs to China, persuade Beijing that a return to the positions of April 2020 is in its interests as well. 

After all, it did take several years before we could get China to vacate Sumdorong Chu.

The other and somewhat uncertain option is to use force. The problem before India is that none of the areas affected are so important that it can contemplate war for them easily. At the same time, it is confronted with the classic dilemma of an adversary using salami tactics, where each cut seems minor, but at the end of the day you end up losing something significant.

This commentary originally appeared in The Quint.

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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