How India and China bought peace – for now

By Vikas Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

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image CaptionFile photo of an Indian Border Security Guard guard near the India-China border

After tensions worsened on their contested Himalayan border for several months, India and China shocked many by announcing that the troops were to disintegrate quickly.

The joint announcement was followed by a marathon meeting between Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow.

This came despite rhetoric among nuclear-armed neighbors that suggested increased hostility.

Earlier in the week, China’s state-run Global Times said that Chinese troops would “give a huge blow to Indian troops, and if Delhi is provoked for war, they will wipe out all”.

India also told Defense Minister Rajnath Singh that “there should be no doubt” about the resolve to protect the country’s territorial integrity.

The statements reflect the reality on the ground: a

Hostile confrontation between soldiers.

In June, they fought a deadly clash with clubs and stones in the Galvan Valley of Ladakh, killing 20 Indian soldiers.

The two countries still have a major deployment in the region where they have regional claims – and their differences will not be easy to overcome.

‘Ice breaker’ messenger

So, did the countries agree to de-escalate when something was expected to happen?

Many observers, including the deputy director of the Wilson Center think-tank Michael Kugelman, believe that the two countries were ready for a confrontation, but they also realized that a war, even a limited option, was not.

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image CaptionIndia is sending reinforcements to the border

“It will be disastrous for both countries and the wider region. The economic stakes for the war were very high,” he said.

The fact is that Mr. Jaishankar served as ambassador in Beijing for many years and is known for sharing good relations with Chinese diplomats.

This broke the ice, Mr. Kugelman says, adding that personal relationships often have a role in important diplomatic negotiations.

Weather, an unlikely factor, may also have played a role. The high ridges of the Galvan Valley become inhuman in winter.

Lieutenant General (Retd) Vinod Bhatia, who served in the Indian Army, says soldiers are used to working under harsh conditions, but “given a chance, both armies want to avoid it”.

Reports also suggest that Indian troops have recently captured some of the neglect of Chinese posts. Nor has the country officially confirmed the reports.

“India may have used this advantage as a negotiating chip,” says Lieutenant General Bhatia.

Both countries also have many other crises to deal with. India’s Kovid-19 Casiolad is growing at an alarming rate and its economy is suffering. Any armed confrontation will affect the country’s ability to address these issues.

Meanwhile, China has tensions with the US and a host of other countries, as well as a global condemnation of its controversial security law in Hong Kong.

How soon can peace be restored?

Analysts say it is difficult to predict.

Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center think-tank in Washington, says the joint declaration lacks details.

First, it does not refer to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the actual border separating countries.

“Several points with LAC are controversial where the military is still stationed, so there is no clarity on the resolution of these issues,” she says.

Image copyrightGetty Images
image CaptionHostility was reported near Pangong Lake this week

De-escalation takes time, says Le-Gen Bhatia, and it will take longer in the current scenario.

“The area is very large and it will take time for commanders to understand. Military-level talks will occur when tensions are still high and sentiments are raw,” he says.

Both countries want to maintain the status quo. And this is difficult, Ms. Yun says, because the two sides define the situation differently.

“Chinese soldiers have gone deep into India’s claims, and there is no clarity on vacating those positions.”

What causes the rise will also determine how quickly disintegration can occur. A major factor cited as a source of tension is a new road that connects Indian Army stations in the area to the forward airport.

But Ms. Yun admits that the road cannot be the only source because it took 20 years to build and “it was not a secret”.

She admits that several factors have improved relations with Delhi, including India’s controversial decision and India’s controversial decision to accord special status to the region.

“Beijing felt that punishing India would warn Delhi and Washington at the same time. But what they did not calculate was that India would refuse to return.”

China has been in a diplomatic confrontation with several countries as US officials accused it of not effectively controlling the coronovirus outbreak.
Image copyrightGetty Images
image CaptionIndia has accelerated the construction of roads along its border with China.

Therefore, they became more aggressive, she says, this was reflected in statements by Beijing officials in recent times. Aggression has been an important factor in China’s foreign policy – particularly in recent months. And Chinese state media often remind the country’s neighbors of its superior military strength.

This also happened with India during the standoff – but only in the last few days.

Authorities in Delhi and Beijing were largely restrained by his remarks in June and July, even after the Galvan clash after Indian soldiers were killed.

Mr. Kugleman says it was because he did not want to undo the efforts to improve relations between PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two have met 18 times since Modi came to power in 2014.

“But it all came undone in recent times, and now it will be interesting to see how China and India sell the announcement to their people,” he says.

Ms Yun says China will find it difficult to reverse the rhetoric “because it cannot be weakened or bullied by India”.

Resolving these core issues, including decades-long unresolved disputes with the LAC spanning 3,440 km (2,100 mi), will not be resolved in a few days.

“So, this is a good start,” Mr. Kugleman says. “Negotiations are better without dialogue, but we just have to be optimistic.”

Related topics

  • India

  • Ladakh
  • China