I. The Big Story: India-China Border Standoff
Tensions along the disputed Sino-Indian border remain high. Last week’s newsletter covered a detailed timeline of the events at the border and speculated a few possible reasons for the current face-off. This week, the stand-off continues despite both the countries engaging with each other through diplomatic and military channels.
Manu Pubby and Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury report that the incident brought back memories from the Kargil war when the Chinese side used the opportunity to build a five km-long track along the Pangong Tso to step up patrolling. The road was completed in record time after Indian troops were pulled out to counter the Pakistani incursions. The security establishment is now closely monitoring developments along the Line of Control with Pakistan for any such activities, they write. Snehesh Alex Philip reports with China bringing in a large number of Border Defence Regiment (BDR) troops along the LAC to force the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to stop infrastructure-development activities, India has decided to stay “dug in” and conduct “mirror deployment.” Mirror deployment means matching all the Chinese moves on the border.
Meanwhile, Sushant Singh reports that 80 per cent of the Chinese transgressions across the LAC since 2015 has taken place in four locations, three of them in eastern Ladakh in the western sector.
He also reports that the satellite imagery shows an extensive deployment of towed artillery and mechanised elements on the Chinese side near the Galwan valley region. A report in Hindustan Times estimates that China may have posted 5000 soldiers across the LAC. Meanwhile, the Global Times reports that the PLA could deploy its newly-developed helicopter drones along the Sino-Indian Border.
The Indian Army has taken necessary counter-measures by boosting troop reinforcement in the eastern Ladakh region. “Some other units under the Leh-based infantry division (a division has 10,000-12,000 soldiers) have moved to occupy their forward operational alert areas from their permanent locations in depth to cater for any contingency.” The Indian Army has also increased its presence in Uttarakhand following reports of a Chinese troop build-up in an area on their side of the LAC in Guldong sector. The Army has enhanced round-the-clock surveillance of the LAC through UAVs.
Indrani Bagchi reports for TOI that there is a determination at the senior levels of government that India will not stop its border development activities. While reinforcements in men and material are being rushed to the forward positions where soldiers from both sides have pitched tents and dug in, it appears that India is also prepared for a long standoff.
Meanwhile, NDTV reports that an Indian patrol party was detained and later released by the Chinese forces after a scuffle between the two sides in Ladakh earlier this month. The situation was finally defused after a border meeting of commanders from both sides. Indian government sources have dismissed reports of Indian patrol being detailed by the Chinese at the LAC in Ladakh calling them “inaccurate.” India’s Ministry of External Affairs explained, “Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC in the Western Sector or the Sikkim sector is not accurate” and the “Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously.”
The military and diplomatic lines of communication also remain open with China in a bid to de-escalate the almost month-long troop confrontations on the northern bank of Pangong Tso, Demchok and Galwan Valley areas. At least six rounds of talks have been held at the local level (including at the division level) in Ladakh besides diplomatic and other efforts to defuse the situation. India has demanded that China revert to status quo along the LAC in Ladakh while the Chinese have sought a stoppage of construction activities by India near the borders. So there are no signs of thaw yet. Reports also indicate that India and China have activated the “working mechanism” at the diplomatic level, which was established during former PM Manmohan Singh’s tenure in 2012 after border talks between then NSA Shivshankar Menon and his Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo. Currently, it is headed by joint secretary-level officials from both sides.
Meanwhile, Shishir Gupta reports for the Hindustan Times that PM Modi’s Doklam team, which included NSA Ajit Doval, CDS General Bipin Rawat and EAM S Jaishankar, is back in action as the PM conveyed the meeting to review the situation on the border. The same team had crafted India’s response to the Doklam standoff in 2017.
The US President Donald Trump also offered to mediate between the two countries on what he called a “big conflict” going on between the two nations. Both India and China have declined the third country intervention in their bilateral dispute.
“Indian and Chinese sides remain engaged through diplomatic and military channels in Delhi and Beijing and at the LAC in order to resolve the situation along the boundaries in Ladakh and Sikkim, and the matter was being discussed bilaterally,” said MEA India spokesperson.
On the Chinese side, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said, “The overall situation in the China-India border area is stable and under control, and the two countries are capable of resolving border issues through dialogue and negotiations. Our position on the border issue has been consistent and clear. China has been earnestly implementing the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, strictly abiding by the relevant agreements, and is committed to safeguarding national security and peace and stability in the China-India border area.”
Also, read an op-ed from the Global Times on India should eschew Western views of China for border peace.
Here are a few articles which could be useful to deep-dive into the issue.