With the world’s attention focused on Taiwan lately, Sunday’s talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders slipped beneath the radar of many newsreaders across the globe. The discussions were the latest in a series of corps and army-level talks aimed at defusing a standoff at the border which has gone on for over a year. Since the clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed border, both nations have claimed they desire a resolution to the standoff. Their actions, however, tell another story as the military presence on both sides of the border continues to increase.
Sunday’s talks failed to make progress and on the following day India and China pointed fingers at each other. The Indian Defense Ministry placed blame on “unilateral attempts by the Chinese side to alter the status quo.” Indian commanders put forward reasonable suggestions at the latest round of talks but China’s representatives were not in agreement and resisted them. A spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army placed responsibility for the lack of progress on India, claiming Indian demands are unreasonable and unrealistic.
Both nations have raised the number of troops stationed in the border region and are actively building up infrastructure intended to keep large forces stationed there during the dangerous winter seasons. Current Chinese troop levels are estimated at 50,000 near the border with tens of thousands more men, and their equipment, within a day’s travel. India has kept pace with the buildup, deploying tens of thousands of its own troops, and weaponry to the border.
The standoff between India and China along their shared border area in the Himalayan region continues. The mutual troop withdrawals which took place earlier in the year, and subsequent rounds of negotiations, have failed to bring the crisis closer to a conclusion. In fact, negotiations have stalled and do not appear to be going anywhere. India’s attention is not on the northern border at present. The COVID-19 resurgence has gripped the national focus while Sino-Indian relations continue to worsen.
Meanwhile, on the Chinese side of the border, the People’s Liberation Army is reinforcing military positions and rotating troops along the border. The number of soldiers at the border has not changed, but China’s shift to ‘depth-areas’ has made reinforcing the border with additional forces much easier. This makes clear that China is in no hurry to de-escalate tensions. Quite the opposite. China has paid considerable attention to the military infrastructure in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) region. Beijing is constructing roads, military encampments, air defense positions and more. Several PLAAF airbases have increased their ability to bed down more combat aircraft.
India has not responded in kind. Its present forces in the region, including the Galwan Valley, have not been reinforced this year. Nor have they been rotated. Diplomatically, India has not made a major issue of the Chinese military activity. Given the present situation on the sub-continent, it is unlikely to do so any time in the near future.
Author’s Note: Apology for the short post. Allergies have been a major problem this week, but are beginning to improve.
There is a long history of tension and conflict on the Sino-Indian border. Certain areas along the 3,800-kilometer-long frontier have been in dispute for decades, and in some spots even longer. In the past half-century, standoffs and skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops have occurred from time to time. Agreements were signed between New Delhi and Beijing to ensure peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and promises were made to resolve the contentious border issues. Not surprisingly, none of these promises would ever bear fruit. The significance of the LAC issues ebbed and flowed with the shifts in global priorities and the international order over the years. The best that could be said was that for the past forty years there were no deadly clashes in the border area.
That streak came to an inglorious end in June, 2020 when Chinese and Indian troops met in the Galwan River valley. No small arms were used, the confrontation was, instead, a melee with swords, sticks, and rocks used as the primary weapons. When it ended 20 Indian and 43 Chinese soldiers were dead and the situation along the Sino-Indian border appeared to be in danger of escalating into a major military confrontation between the two Asian powers. Over the summer, and into the autumn months tension remained high. There was dialogue between the governments and militaries, but no firm de-escalation, and disengagement measures came about. Force buildups continued, as well as provocative troop movements in and around the LAC.
The border area is stable at the moment. Winter fast approaching in the Himalayas and will hamper military operations and movement to a large degree, but this does not guarantee that the winter season will be a quiet one. There are many new facets to the current Sino-Indian crisis that were not present in the past, such as the nuclear element, as well as India’s role as the US counterweight to China. These two facets contribute to making the stakes of this Sino-Indian crisis substantially high.
I have much to say on the Sino-Indian situation, and on their relations in general. As a result, one entry, no matter how detailed, is not going to suffice. So, expect another two entries on the Sino-Indian Crisis in the coming week. If Tuesday weren’t Election Day here in the US I would wrap it up by then. Unfortunately, this won’t be possible so I will post Part II on Monday, and Part III next Thursday.
India’s military has confirmed it has a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier in custody today after the soldier crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries. The crossing was apparently an accident and India is not suspecting any untoward motives. Incidents like this happen occasionally and there is a system of procedures in place to deal with them. A statement released by the Indian military essentially confirmed that the system is working in this case. “As per established protocols, he will be returned back to Chinese officials at the Chushul–Moldo meeting point after completion of formalities.”
This comes as the standoff between India and China along their shared border approaches its sixth month. Although both nations continue to keep thousands of troops supported by artillery, armor, and combat aircraft in close proximity to the frontier, the region has been relatively quiet in recent weeks. After shots were fired along the LAC in September China and India appear to have both made a sincere effort to deescalate tensions along the border.
Another reason for the area becoming less tense is that winter is fast approaching. Ladakh is a cold desert region in the Himalayas that sees temperatures plummet to -50 degrees Fahrenheit on occasion. China’s window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Soon the weather will make sustained military operations improbable until the spring. This doesn’t mean the lull will continue on over the winter months for certain though. As we have seen in the past six months, it does not take much to heighten tensions between India and China in this area. Given what is going on in the world at the present time, more clashes over the winter cannot be ruled out.
India and China are in agreement that a speedy implementation of the disengagement and de-escalation measures agreed to by their senior military leaders is essential at this time. The joint stance does not signify an imminent scaling down of tensions in the ongoing standoff between India and China. It must be remembered that discussions between Indian and Chinese corps-level general officers took place before the 15 June clash, and similar measures were agreed to then. They did not prevent Chinese and Indian troops from engaging in a violent battle that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, and there is no guarantee the more recent agreements will prevent future incidents. Senior diplomats from both countries held a video conference today. The situation along the Indian-Chinese border was discussed, and both sides agreed to maintain communication at the diplomatic and military levels. They also reaffirmed the measures mentioned briefly above.
The lighting rounds of in-person discussions, and video conferences this week has not stopped the buildup of forces on both sides of the border. Chinese and Indian reinforcements continue to pour into the region, and construction of new outposts, and infrastructure is continuing. This reinforces the theory that while both India and China might be hopeful diplomatic measures can bring a viable solution to the crisis, neither side is banking on it.
There are growing discussions on Chinese President Xi’s motivation for sparking a crisis with China’s large neighbor to the south at this point. Some analysts speculate the move is part of a larger pattern of Chinese actions aimed at taking advantage of a distracted world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of my colleagues believe Xi’s reasoning has more to do with strengthening his diminishing grip on the People’s Republic of China. Personally, I suspect it has more to do with the former reasoning, yet nothing can be ruled out at this point. The potential for future clashes on the ground remain, and the crisis has yet to be decisively concluded.