China must back off, defuse situation

China must back off, defuse situation

There has been a worrying surge in tensions on the border with China at various points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in recent weeks. Flag meetings between commanders of the two sides have failed to de-escalate the situation. Not only have Chinese troops transgressed into the Indian side of the LAC but they have also disrupted routine patrolling near the LAC by Indian troops. They have also destroyed posts and bridges on the Galwan Nala at Chang-Chenmo. Indian experts have said that the Chinese transgressions are not “normal” but “serious.” At a time when India and China should be directing all their attention to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic at home, it is unfortunate that Beijing has resorted to aggressive moves along the LAC. For decades, the military balance along the LAC was decisively in China’s favour as India, anxious to avoid ruffling Beijing’s feathers, was reluctant to improve road and other infrastructure near the LAC. Over the past decade, however, India has not only improved not only infrastructure along the LAC but also its military preparedness vis-à-vis China. It is likely that Beijing is uneasy with India slowly closing the gap. Hence, the growing aggression of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops against Indian patrols.

China’s moves along the LAC must not be seen in isolation. Since early this year, it has aggressively asserted its claims over disputed maritime borders with several of its neighbours, including Japan, South Korea and several Southeast Asian countries. At a time when the latter are struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing appears to be pressuring them to settle territorial disputes in a way that favours China. This could underlie Chinese calculations regarding its border dispute with India, too. The possibility that Beijing is pushing Nepal to adopt a confrontationist posture in its territorial dispute with India in a bid to put Delhi under pressure on yet another front cannot be ruled out.

Face-offs along the LAC have grown in frequency and intensity in recent years. This time, the situation looks more serious as both sides are moving additional troops along the LAC and the militaries are in a state of heightened alert. There is a real possibility of a military confrontation between the two sides, especially in eastern Ladakh. A conflict or even a standoff, whether limited or prolonged, will benefit neither country. The two countries must speed up the Special Representative process to negotiate and clarify the borders. But, for that, it is imperative that China backs off from what it has started.

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