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19th India China Senior Commanders Meet: What to Expect?

Prejudging the outcome of a talks between two adversaries on the Line of Actual Control may be hazardous. Despite the face off of troops and large number of locations on the LAC, Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have maintained communications at the military to military level between commanders to avoid clashes post June 2020 in Eastern Ladakh.

Multiple Media reports on August 11/12 have indicated that the 19th Senior Commanders meet between Indian Army and the PLA is likely to be held on August 14.

So far multiple rounds of talks have resulted in disengagement from Galwan Valley [2020], Pangong Tso [2021], Gogra (PP-17A) [2021] and Hot Springs (PP-15) [2022].

The pace of disengagement over the past three years is an indicator of the challenges that are faced given Chinese reluctance to adopt the status quo on the Line of Actual Control as existing in April 2020.

Talks for disengagement from the two most contentious areas Depsang Plains and the Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction at Demchok are expected to be held in this round. With China having a strategic advantage over Daulat Beg Oldi airfield through occupation of the Depsang plains it is unlikely to relent on giving space. At best a buffer zone can be anticipated but that is unlikely to be acceptable to India.

The strategic environment may also not dictate any scope for a possible disengagement.

Mr Wang Yi, Director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and now also the Foreign Minister after the unceremonious removal as it seems of the short lived Mr Qin Gang met with Indian National Security Adviser Mr Ajit Doval in Johannesburg on the sidelines of the BRICS National Security Advisers meet on 24 July.

Chinese statement of the meeting quotes Mr Ajit Doval as saying, “The Indian side is willing to work with the Chinese side to find a fundamental way to resolve the border situation in the spirit of mutual understanding and mutual respect, look at the overall situation and the long-term, promote the improvement and development of bilateral relations as soon as possible, and make positive contributions to maintaining world peace and prosperity”.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs statement of the NSA’s meet is more cryptic and the relevant portion of the statement indicates an erosion of strategic trust. During the meeting, NSA conveyed that the situation along the LAC in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary since 2020 had eroded strategic trust and the public and political basis of the relationship,” as per the MEA statement.

In what surprised many observers and gladdened the hearts of the hawks in Delhi who have been indicating that India should abandon the policy of ambiguity with reference to Taiwan, three retired service chiefs of the Indian Armed Forces, visited Taiwan to attend Tack 2 events in the country.

The presence of the three chiefs will only add to the mistrust and the possibility of a bilateral as envisaged between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa appears unlikely for now and may be even during the G 20 summit in September.

In the above context, the outcome of the 19th Senior Commanders Talks may not be favourable unless China is willing to give some quarters to the Indian side.

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