(This was originally posted in The Print by Nayanima Basu)
With the last round of India-China corps commander-level talks doing little to ease tensions, sections of India’s strategic community are concerned that the confrontation could likely get worse at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, and that Beijing may not continue with the regular lines of communication. While India didn’t expect movement on the disengagement plans, owing to China’s recent actions to deploy more troops at the LAC, the commentary from Beijing this time that India had made “unreasonable demands” has prompted strategic sources in New Delhi to believe that this could lead to a ‘Galwan-like’ flare-up, ThePrint has learnt.
According to sources, while the coming winter may be difficult for Indian troops, by March-April next year, there could even be a fresh bout of violence, including the possible use of firearms. Sources also said that this time the Chinese had even hinted at “changing their approach” on lines of communication. Ever since the LAC stand-off began in April-May 2020, both sides have mainly followed a three-tier approach — regular talks at the diplomatic and military levels, along with a dialogue track between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
To top all of this, talks were also held between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi. It was Doval and Yang who agreed to a disengagement plan in 2020. Sources said that this time the talks failed as the Chinese have replaced Gen. Xu Qiling, who was promoted in July, with Gen. Wang Haijiang, and that as a result a “comfort level” had not been achieved. Gen. Wang is the fourth commander to head the Western Theatre Command since the stand-off began. The decision to bring him in only in September was taken by the Central Military Commission (CMC), which heads the PLA.
The sticky issues
While disengagement has taken place in the Pangong Tso area and at the Gogra Post, a stand-off continues over Patrolling Point 15 (PP15) in Hot Springs, the Depsang Plains and in the Demchok area. India and China have six to seven hotlines but there has been little progress in the talks. A larger plan to resolve the issue with the establishment of a hotline at the DGMO level remains unfulfilled. According to a source, both sides will be on edge this winter but India is well-prepared to face any kind of challenge.
“Hot Springs and Demchok continue to pose challenges. The Chinese have now made it a sovereignty issue, which is irksome. Earlier they were saying this is just a territorial issue. This should be noted,” said Lt Gen. Rakesh Sharma (retd), a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). READ MORE