Updated: January 10, 2022 9:26:48 am
China and India are scheduled to meet on Wednesday for another round of border talks in Eastern Ladakh in the shadow of developments that are none too reassuring. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is building across a portion of the Pangong Lake, which while being on China’s side of the LAC, has implications for India’s defence of its territory. Meanwhile, Beijing has also “standardised” names of several places in Arunachal Pradesh, giving them Chinese names. Then, a junior diplomat in the Chinese Embassy in Delhi ticked off Indian parliamentarians for attending a Tibet-related event. While 13 previous rounds of talks between the ground commanders of the Indian Army and PLA have yielded disengagement at Pangong and Gogra, an anticipated agreement for disengagement at Hot Springs could not take place. Moreover, the continuing tensions all along the LAC, particularly the build-up by the Chinese in the Western sector of the contested line, offer no comfort. Until the two sides can resolve differences in the strategic Depsang Area, where Indian troops are being prevented from accessing traditional patrolling points, de-escalation will remain elusive. The construction of the bridge over Pangong is an indication that Beijing is in fact preparing for a long haul. Beijing is also building other roads and bridges and reinforcing military infrastructure, all on its side of the LAC, but certainly not a sign of two countries moving towards resolution.
Last week, the Ministry of External Affairs denounced the “standardisation” of names in Arunachal as “ridiculous”, and rightly said this would not alter the fact that Arunachal is an inalienable part of India. It also reprimanded the Chinese Embassy for “hyping normal activities” by Indian parliamentarians. Significantly, it described the new bridge as a construction in Indian territory that China had “illegally occupied” in the 1962 war, declaring that India had “never accepted such illegal occupation”. That it took days for Delhi to break its silence on these matters, however, is puzzling. Now that this is done, the real question is how India is going to deal with China’s heightened military activity along the LAC, apart from getting it to vacate areas that Delhi says are illegally occupied.
Dealing with a powerful neighbour that has unilaterally discarded three decades of agreements that laid down the path to deal with the border issue is not easy. Strangely, the country’s political leadership, usually out there projecting global clout with hashtag diplomacy, is yet to take full ownership of the crisis with China which is the first step towards addressing it more frontally.