India and China, Asia’s major powers are struggling to resolve the impasse on the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh as close to 100,000 plus troops on both sides with heavy artillery, tanks and ICVs are deployed in faceoffs at a number of points for the past 17 months. While a physical clash has been avoided, the adversarial military positions raises concerns of flashpoint and what is more there is a clear breakdown of strategic communications at the highest level – Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Xi Jinping of China which had been one of the mainstay in preventing escalation. Here are some pointers towards the same-
Exchange of Greetings between Leaders.
An important track of communications is an exchange of greetings between leaders on occasions such as national days. There were no greetings however to China as the centenary celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) were portrayed on July 1 in massive ceremonies across the country 1with focus on Beijing. The Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson seemed to indicate that this was not a government matter and purely a political party issue.
On the political front only the General Secretary of the CPM Mr Sitaram Yechury send a congratulatory letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his counter-part of the CPC which lauded Marxism and Leninism and development of China emerging as a leading economic power.
There are also no indications that greetings were exchanged on the National Day of China on October 01, Reciprocal greetings from the Chinese side on India’s Independence Day on August 15 or Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday on September 17th.
Dropping of Reference to Consensus of Leaders.
For the first time in the joint press release on Senior Commanders meeting on disengagement and de-escalation, there was no reference to – consensus of state leaders including strategic communication after the 12th Senior Commanders talks between India.
Till the Press Release after the 11th Round stock phrase, “consensus of their leaders, continue their communication and dialogue and work towards a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest,” had been used.
“The two sides agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, continue their communication and dialogue, stabilize and control the situation on the ground, push for a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues in a steady and orderly manner, so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” at the 10th Round as per the joint press release.
This stock phrase was also missing from the Ministry of Affairs Press statement after India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) met State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China H.E. Mr. Wang Yi on 16th September 2021 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on the side lines of the 21st SCO Meeting of the Head of States.
No Bilateral at High Level Summit
Two high level summits during September – BRICS and the SCO saw active joint participation by Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping. As these were held virtually there was no scope of a summit on the sidelines, thus the vexed India China border standoff in Eastern Ladakh is expected to seen no breakthrough in the near future.
Reasons for Breakdown
Strengthening India US Partnership
With QUAD leaders holding the first in person summit in Washington and Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi reaffirming commitment to strengthening India United States relations, Chinese perception of India joining the United States block as a quasi-ally is likely to have been strengthened. Adding to China’s concerns is strengthening of the Australia – UK and US strategic alliance through the AUKUS deal which has received some strong reactions from China.
Recent offensive statements by some key Indian military commanders as General Bipin Rawat the Chief of Defence Staff on Clash of Civilisations between the Sinic and Islam as well as reports of heavy build up of forces by Indian Artillery on the LAC may have added to the ongoing estrangement.
Indian External Affairs minister had clarified on September 16 that, “India had never subscribed to any clash of civilisations theory,” but the damage may have been done.
Differences in Strategic Perceptions of Dispute
While China believes that boundary dispute should be dealt with separately and should not affect other dimensions of the relations such as economy and trade, India links the same
Thus External Affairs Minister has clarified in his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Wang Yi on September 16th, that, “peace and tranquility in the border areas has been an essential basis for progress in the bilateral relations”.
India’s ambassador to China, Vikram Misri has addressing an event co-hosted by the School of International Studies of Sichuan University (SCU), China Centre for South Asian Studies and the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses outlined that there is a necessity to separate the larger boundary dispute from the present standoff.
“As we do so, any attempt to confuse border affairs with the Boundary Question is a disservice to the work of those involved in finding solutions,” he said, indicating that China was doing so by “shifting goalposts”. “This is why the Indian side has been consistently saying that the current issue is about restoring peace and tranquillity to the border areas and is not about the resolution of the larger Boundary Question, on which our stance has not changed, despite what happened last year,” Misri added.
Hopes of Reconciliation
Army Chief General M M Naravane in an interview with the ANI said with reference to the situation in Eastern Ladakh “The situation over the last six months or so has been quite normal. The talks have been going on for more than a year now,” he said. “We are hopeful to have the 13th round of talks very soon, perhaps as soon as next week — in the second week of October. We are confident that as we discuss things with each other, we will be able to reach a consensus on how this disengagement will take place.”
So will there be a breakthrough soon, we will have to wait and see?