Are India-China Military Talks Serving Their Purpose?

India and China are set to have yet another round of military talks as decided in the 25th edition of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India–China Border Affairs (WMCC) meet held in October, 2022. But, are the talks going to result in any fruition for India as numerous reports claim that China has already grabbed more than a thousand square kilometers of territory which is around Ladakh’s Pangong Lake? There are similar claims in Arunachal Pradesh, where local leaders have claimed that the Chinese have taken away a good deal of land in many of the areas adjoining the Myanmar border.

Sources say that the 17th round of military talks are majorly going to focus on the Chinese intrusions at Depsang and Demchok. India says the Chinese are in a place where they shouldn’t be and, they have been there long before 2020. They have to de-escalate in these areas and those 500-600 tanks should have gone back a long time ago. India also says that at present there is peace at the other patrolling points of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), barring these two areas. Officials of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) claim that the 16th round of talks were very successful and it was able to keep China away from most of the patrolling points.

At the same time China has been steadily boosting its infrastructure in the areas, and to counter that — India has also announced a slew of projects in the form of tunnels, bridges, roads and helipads, work of which many are underway. Both countries want to strengthen their positions at the border. Army veterans and experts suggest that the historical ambiguity of the Macmohon and Durand lines needs to be resolved which is easier said than done, or else the talks may yield little or no result at all, and tensions will continue.

“India’s agenda must be simple. De-escalate, go back to your original positions, see each at the patrolling points and push back – that’s all. Maintain the Status Quo,” says an Army veteran. He further adds that, India’s defence strategy and how the armed forces are working, is based purely on perception. He iterates that what is portrayed to people through TV Channels and other media is not the real picture.

If that’s the case, then there has to be a reality-check here because it seems that the border delineation itself is controversial. These are highly hostile terrain areas and it isn’t humanly possible to monitor each and every second. Sometimes the Chinese patrol comes deeper into Indian territory, sometimes India goes a bit deep into theirs. Many Indian army men feel that if there was a proper demarcation of borders, maybe Aksai Chin would not have been lost by India in 1962.

Certain things have happened in the past because of which both doubt each other. In the hilly areas, whoever sits at the vantage point can command the area. So, it’s a predicament for both sides. The Indian Government blames the UPA Government’s ‘Scorched Earth Policy’ and their lackadaisical attitude towards protecting Indian borders. The former cites this as the main reason behind the Chinese incursions and the present state of affairs at the LAC.

The political opposition in India claims that the present Government has got used to taking major decisions without consulting the important stakeholders. Waris Pathan, the national spokesperson of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) says that his party has tried to raise this issue of Chinese infiltration many times in the past. Pathan says he knows very well that the Chinese have been making roads in Arunachal Pradesh without any fear. “I have also seen videos of the same. Not just roads, they are making full-fledged villages too, but the Indian Government is blatantly denying this,” says Pathan.

It is notable that the Indian Prime Minister had raised the issue at the T20 summit but then nothing much came out of it. Pathan adds: “Today, we should be worried about our national security, 20 of our brave army men were martyred.”

India’s political opposition says it must be updated about what the exact position at the LAC is? They argue that the Government must duly bring forth the truth in front of the entire nation, for which a special session should be organized in Parliament. They want a healthy debate to happen on the floor as to why China is entering into India. Opposition leaders claim that till date, the Government has refused to have any healthy argument and discussion about the problem. If they are in majority, what is stopping them from openly talking about it with the people of India?

“They are just talking about Depsang and Demchok now, their MEA is definitely hiding things and misguiding Indian people. I have many photographs of the Chinese entering our territory,” asserts Pathan.

The India-China standoff began in May 2020, and both sides have so far held 16 rounds of talks to ensure complete de-escalation. After speaking with several locals, it has clearly been evident that in Demchok, there are Chinese tents seen on the Indian side and the Chinese continue to build heavy infrastructure in the bordering areas. Chief of Army Staff, General Manoj Pande had stated that the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in eastern Ladakh is “stable but unpredictable.” Sources suggest that the last two rounds of talks have ended in a stalemate. The friction points that remain now are Demchok and Depsang, which China has constantly refused to accept, maintaining that they are not a part of the current stand-off.

B.V. Srinivasa Rao, President of The Indian Youth Congress says that instead of taking a firm stand against China, the Government has surrendered Indian land and jeopardized Indian borders by sheer inaction in pushing back China. The young politician says that their leader Rahul Gandhi, has time and again warned the Government over the issue of China and, now when the 17th round of talks is around, it is still very unlikely to find a solution to the issue of Demchok and Depsang.

There seems to be a varied amalgam of opinions on the subject in India, but by and large after talking to so many people and knowing their opinions, one thing is evident that it is not going to be very easy for India to convince China on the table. China will try hard to maintain its stance as the LAC region is precious to it for the natural resources that lie in these areas. It certainly won’t let go off so easily. India is working on its agenda and the Government must bear in mind that many people in the country, the political opposition are not very pleased with the way the situation has been dealt with so far.

This is not an international border but rather a place where the ‘Claim of the Might is Right.’ In the 17th round of talks between India-China, India must come up with a firm and transparent stand over the issue, as only that can help maintain the trust of the people of India and preserve the hard-earned sovereignty of the country.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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