Unending Standoff

CHINESE activity near Ladakh, a top US General has said, is “eye-opening” and some of the infrastructure being created is alarming. Commanding General, US Army Pacific, General Charles A Flynn, described Beijing’s posture in Ladakh as “destabilizing and corrosive behaviour” as he talked about the Chinese infrastructure build-up across the Himalayan frontier. The General who oversees the Asia-Pacific region, further said that an incremental and insidious path” followed by China projected on to the region was “simply not helpful”.

Over two years into the standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India and China have yet to resolve it to their mutual satisfaction. In fact, it is China that is the aggressor here and the country has to withdraw from several ingress points. But China has refused to do so. Nor does it look likely that it would do so in the future. Recently, the two sides held 24th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) where they reviewed the situation along the LAC in the western sector of the India-China border.

The two countries have failed to arrive at a breakthrough in successive rounds of Corps Commander-level talks. The two sides have been looking at a possible agreement for disengagement from Hot Springs as part of the comprehensive disengagement and de-escalation efforts in eastern Ladakh. Last year, the two countries had disengaged from the friction point at Pangong Tso lake but ever since they have struggled to replicate the agreement at the other friction points: Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army has enhanced its military profile on the border by deploying thousands of its soldiers and equipment.

Thankfully, the Line of Control with Pakistan has calmed down since February last year after the two countries reinstated 2003 ceasefire. The agreement has since held. It doesn’t look like things will change much this year. This, however, has not paved the way for a restoration of the dialogue between the neighbors. Pakistan, going by the statements of its leadership, has given up on any engagement with New Delhi as the latter wouldn’t reverse the withdrawal of Article 370. China, on the other hand, wants to cement the new status quo along the LAC.

Fifteen rounds of dialogue between senior-level Army commanders have so far achieved little. But there are huge geo-political stakes for both the countries that can’t be ignored. A lingering state of confrontation between the two will not be in the interest of either. Here is hoping that China eventually sees the reason and rationale of having India as a partner in the economic advancement of the region than an adversary.

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