There has been unwarranted excitement in some quarters at the announcement of the agreement to disengage by Chinese forces and our own at what is known as Patrolling Point 15 (PP-15) in eastern Ladakh where the PLA brazenly intruded into traditionally held Indian positions in the early summer of 2020.
The agreement announced recently follows from the 16th round of corps commanders meeting on September 8. When we assess this result, we should keep in mind the tragic events of June 16, 2020, when 20 Indian soldiers were killed by the Chinese (who also suffered losses) in the process of verifying whether the PLA had indeed pulled back in Galwan following a similar agreement.
There is another reason to induce caution in evaluation. In responding to a question arising from disengagement at PP-15, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said while responding to a media question that the return to a pre-April 2020 “status quo” that India speaks of was “created by India’s illegal crossing of the LAC” and that China will “by no means accept that.” Well, this speaks volumes for what’s playing at the back of China’s mind, even if we make allowance for an over-enthusiastic Beijing official.
The remark is suggestive of a national entity that is besotted with itself. China’s expansionist hubris in relation to India (as with practically all its neighbours) appears to stem from the notion that its GDP is five times India’s and it can therefore afford to ride roughshod. On military terms, the equation is more nuanced as we have seen in Ladakh, and in Doklam in 2017. All the same, it is worth asking communist China’s officials whey they are bothering to disengage at PP-15 if it is India that had illegally crossed the LAC.
In dealing with an aggressor country in the hands of an unremitting authoritarian like Xi Jinping, New Delhi does need to consider all instruments, including trade and the reinforcing of links with other countries short of military blocs. Regrettably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s factually off-the-mark assertion at an all-party meeting on June 20, 2020, that Indian positions had not been intruded into in eastern Ladakh has had the unintended effect of playing into China’s hands though it had been made for purposes of domestic politics or propaganda.
Therefore, when the PM visits Uzbekistan for the SCO summit on September 15-16, it may be wise to not go beyond the call of the most perfunctory protocol in engaging with the Chinese leader. The lessons of the scattering of the bilateral Wuhan “spirit” in a trice cannot be lost. The cosmetic cozying up on swings seen between Mr Modi and Mr Xi at the Sabarmati water front earlier also failed to moderate Mr Xi’s regional preening.
Wherever “disengagement” has officially occurred in eastern Ladakh, Indian forces have not been permitted by the PLA to return to patrolling up to their traditional positions to which there had been no objection from China earlier. Besides, China has simply refused to budge in respect of the strategically significant Depsang Plains.
There is a possible military way around this cold reality but that can result in risky brinkmanship. So, there seems no way other than plugging away at diplomacy and trans-regional political and economic bridge-building in order to curb the overweening ambitions of a power-crazed leadership in Beijing....