Indo-China border tension
In the interest of peace, both India and China must bring an end to tensions on the border by clarifying their positions on LAC
With almost half a dozen incidents on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the past few weeks, India-China border is witness to tense situation since the Doklam stand-off in 2017. The tensions between the two powerful and Nuclear-armed countries have the potential of escalation and threatening the peace in the entire region. In the past three years in particular, both the countries have done remarkably well diplomatically to maintain peace. It is important to note that during their meetings during this period, both the Indian Prime Minister and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that difference should be resolved before they are allowed to escalate into disputes. Besides, a clear message was sent to the two militaries to adhere to the detailed protocols already in place, such as those agreed to in 2005 and 2013. These protocols regulate the activities of troops in the contested areas that lie in between both sides overlapping claim lines of the undefined LAC. If Army Chief General Manoj Naravane wisely sought to cool the temperatures with his May 14 statement, China has unhelpfully raised them. His visit to Ladakh for seeing the ground situation early this week and submitting a report to the Defence Minister was also seen as a provocation by the Chinese side. Perhaps that could be the reason that on May 19, its Foreign Ministry accused the Indian Army of making an 'attempt to unilaterally change the status' of the LAC. The stand-off in Ladakh appears to have been triggered by China moving in troops to obstruct road construction activity by India. Last year, India completed the road to Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) which connects Leh to the Karakoram Pass. India also maintains a key landing strip at DBO at 16,000 feet. The broader context for the tensions is the changing dynamic along the LAC. India has been upgrading its roads as it plays catch-up, with China already enjoying an advantage in both terrain and infrastructure. China now seems to be telling India it has no right to carry out the kind of activity that Beijing has already done. India is well within its right to carry out construction work on the roads and connect the hinterland of Ladakh. India needs to remind China that a fundamental principle that overshadows all the previous pacts is recognising the right to mutual and equal security of the two sides.
In the backdrop of the present tensions between the two countries particularly in Ladakh, the priority for both the countries should be to use the existing channels and step back. The flag meetings between the Brigade Commanders have so far been able to break the stalemate. The incidents in the recent weeks have brought to the fire how the new LAC tensions are placing the existing mechanisms under renewed stress. Both the countries should grasp the opportunity created by the current situation to revive the stalled process of clarifying the LAC. In fact, the long pending exercise to remarking the boundary by the Joint Working Group should pick up pace in this direction as a starting point for resolving the dispute in near future. China has resisted this as a distraction to the boundary talks. But rather than agree on a line, both can instead simply seek to better understand the claims of the other and reach a common understanding to regulate activity in these areas. Clarifications on the boundary may even provide a fresh impetus to the stalled boundary talks between the Special Representatives. Beyond the posturing, both sides know a final settlement will ultimately have to use the LAC as a basis, with only minor adjustments here and there to the satisfaction of both the sides. Only a settlement will end the shadow boxing on the LAC. Both the countries facing an unprecedented global pandemic should realise that now is the time to push for a settlement to a distracting, protracted dispute.