(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
The 11th round of India-China military dialogue may take place on April 9 to resolve the friction at Gogra-Hot Springs and restoring the pre-April 2020 status quo ante along the 1,597-kilometre Line of Actual Control(LAC) in East Ladakh, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The Indian army also wants to resolve long-standing patrolling issues at Depsang Bulge due to friction in the area during the 2013 stand-off with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
“The dialogue will most probably take place on Friday (April 9) but a confirmation is still awaited from the PLA side,” said a senior official. He, however, insisted that there is no delay from the Chinese side.
While the situation on both banks of Pangong Tso is stable with the PLA and Indian Army going back to pre-April 2020 positions, a score of Chinese soldiers is still to restore status quo ante in the Gogra-Hot Springs area, or patrolling points 15 and 17 as per the Indian military lexicon. The last round of military talks to resolve border tensions that began last May was held on February 20. This meeting stretched for 16 hours and ended with two sides agreeing that the Pangong Tso disengagement provided them with a “good basis” to resolve the outstanding issues at friction points in “a steady and orderly” manner.
ndian Army commanders believe that the differences between the two sides at the Gogra-Hot Springs area was relatively a minor issue as compared to the diversion of views on the strategic heights on both banks Pangong Tso. But there is recognition that the talks could go either way though the army has approached the dialogue with an open mind.
The 11th round of military talks comes at a time there is growing concern in China about the Quad security dialogue and the attempts to raise pressure on Beijing to loosen its hold over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Leaders of the four-member Quad grouping – the United States, India, Japan and Australia – held their first summit on March 12 to address concerns about Beijing’s growing economic and military heft. A meeting of US-China officials at Anchorage on March 18 also ended acrimoniously, making it clear that there was no possibility of a revival in US-China bilateral ties in a hurry despite the change in the White House.
To add to China’s concern is the concerted effort by powers such as France and the United Kingdom to expand their footprint in the Indo-Pacific and India playing a pivotal role in the region, particularly in the Indian Ocean. Navies of France-plus Quad countries are already in the middle of exercises in the Bay of Bengal. with French carrier strike force led by aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will participate in the trilateral naval exercise along with the Indian and the United Arab Emirates navies in the strategically important Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman later this month.
Officials suggest it is not clear these developments would impact the military talks. With both the US and China accusing each other of grand-standing at the Anchorage meeting last month, the PLA may either harden its stance or soften its attitude towards the resolution of Gogra-Hot Springs. The Indian Army, which has been long prepared for a long haul at the friction points, is also keeping a close watch on the entire 3488 km LAC as most stand-offs with PLA take place in April and May during exercises in Tibet and Xinjiang by the Western Theatre Command based in Chengdu.