Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom. This week we cover developments along the LAC, the possibility of a Xi-Modi summit in Varanasi, China’s warning on the Dalai Lama, the trade war, how BRI is stumbling in South Asia and much more…
I. Talks & Transgressions
The second informal summit between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping is likely to held in Varanasi on October 12. That’s according to a report by The Hindu’s Atul Aneja. The report says that while the details are being worked out, a boat ride along the Ganga is in the works. External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar is expected to visit Beijing next month for the second meeting of the India-China high level people-to-people exchanges mechanism with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. That’s when more details are likely to come out.
Meanwhile, this week Jaishankar told Rajya Sabha that the government’s “endeavour (is) to engage China.” He added that dialogue with China takes place at multiple levels, starting from the leader-level talks. The substance of these talks range from bilateral, military to broader strategic issues, such as the Iran deal, the INF treaty, etc. Earlier Defense Minister Rajnath Singh answered questions about the boundary issues with China. This came in the context of the recent incident in Ladakh, which I’d covered in last week’s newsletter. The issue led to some chaos in Parliament. Singh responded to the questioning, stating “India and China are respecting bilateral pacts to ensure peace and tranquillity along the border.”
Also this week, the Defense Ministry’s annual report discussed border transgressions along the LAC and the developments following the 2017 Doklam incident. The report says “Compared to last year, the number of transgressions this year has considerably reduced. Concomitantly, the percentage of faceoffs/aggressive interactions during these transgressions has also reduced this year…Post Wuhan Summit, there has been an increase in the number of flag meetings. This may be attributed to the intent of resolving outstanding issues through discussions at various levels.” The report identifies two major differences of opinion over the past year, i.e., at Charding-Ninglung Nallah junction in eastern Ladakh due to the construction of a benign track and the constant raising of construction of a temporary operating base in Arunachal Pradesh by India. On Doklam, it says that both India and China have reduced their presence on the Doklam plateau post the disengagement in 2017.
While this might sound good, Jabin Jacob’s piece this week highlights some of the inherent problems along the boundary and why tensions are likely to persist. He writes that while incidents have reduced, “the nature of the boundary dispute is such that maintaining presence in or access to claimed areas is essentially the main objective of army patrols on both sides because these are useful either from a military vantage point or as bargaining chips at negotiations. Given this reality it is unlikely that ‘aggressive patrolling’ or tailing of each other’s patrols will stop on the ground or that ‘escorted patrols’ will be successful for any length of time…While the importance of political guidance from the top on both sides in lowering tensions and ensuring better behaviour cannot be understated, this also implies that if understanding breaks down at the top, we might well return to the period of frequent transgressions on the LAC as well as possibly, escalation.”
Meanwhile, Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Parliament this week that the government has decided to connect 496 villages along the India-China border with IMSAT satellite. This is being done after the transponder of NSS-6 Satellite was turned off on May 13 this year due to security concerns. This led to disrupting all digital satellite phone terminals in villages, ITBP, Army and BRO outposts along the Niti valley in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand along the India-China border.
Finally, Hindustan Times reports that the Indian Army has approved the opening of a new trading point with China at Dumchelle in Ladakh. This is likely to be the third such trading point along the boundary, after Lipulekh in Uttarakhand and Nathu La in Sikkim.
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