Border tensions remain even as Chinese and Indian commanders continue negotiations
- Latest round of talks between military leaders after skirmish in Galwan Valley left 20 dead are said to have made ‘positive progress’
- But experts note that the discussions do not seem to be producing any end to the stand-off soon
China says that its border troops’ communication with India is making progress to ease their tensions, and that they will continue to talk out a solution to end the current stand-off.
Major General Liu Lin, commander of China’s South Xinjiang military region, and Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of India’s Leh-based 14 Corps, met in Chushul, Ladakh, on Tuesday for the third time in a month, and made some “positive progress” on taking effective measures to disengage and reduce tension on the border, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
“We hope the Indian side will implement the agreed consensus with practical actions, continue keeping close communications through military and diplomatic channels, and jointly promote a de-escalation of the situation on the border,” said Zhao.
But Indian media reported that during the 12-hour marathon negotiations, the two sides had difficulties on how to “define the details of disengagement”.
At their last meeting on June 22, they agreed to disengage from friction points along the disputed border. That meeting was held a week after the deadliest skirmish in decades between the two nations in Galwan Valley on June 15; in all, 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
Troops from the two neighbours first engaged in clashes in early May over the patrols along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between Indian-administered Ladahk and Chinese-administered Aksai Chin. Tensions rose in the next two months, and extended into brawls at multiple locations along the 3,400km (2,100-mile) border.
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The two generals had their first meeting on June 6 and reached an agreement to disengage, but the implementation was disrupted by the Galwan Valley incident.
For all their discussion, experts said, the negotiation between the frontline commanders does not seem to be producing any concrete result soon.
The confrontation this time may well break the record of the Doklam stand-off in 2017, in which Chinese and Indian soldiers confronted each other for 73 days, from June to August, on the Doklam Plateau bordering Bhutan.
The stalemate this time could well last until the Himalayan climate no longer allows it to continue, according to Lin Minwang, deputy director of Fudan University’s Centre for South Asian Studies.
“There is no way to de-escalate right away, also no way to step back,” he said. “The only thing possible for both sides to do is keep a posture for negotiation.”
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A lack of trust and the gap in each other’s understanding of the issue means the talks will be prolonged and the confrontation will drag on, said Sun Shihai, a researcher on China’s relations with South Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
India has brought in troop reinforcements and air force sorties to back up its front line, and has urgently bought weapons from Russia. China has also strengthened positions near the LAC as shown on satellite images and increased deployments and exercises on the Tibetan Plateau.
“In an optimistic scenario, they will continue the current deadlock for some time; in a more pessimistic scenario, there are still possibilities of another fight,” said Sun.
At least on the political and diplomatic levels, he said, the two sides seem to have agreed that the incident must be solved through peaceful means. But it remains for the military commanders on the ground to settle the issue.
“Maybe they will have to meet repeatedly for many more times, but it’s better they wrestle with words than fight with stones,” he said.