By Sri Krishna
New Delhi: Ahead of the 14th round of Corps Commander-level dialogue to be held in eastern Ladakh after three-month gap on January 12, there is need to examine the developments during this period which has seen China keeping an aggressive posture by announcing that it had standardised in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of 15 places in Zangnan, the Chinese name for Arunachal Pradesh. China said that standardisation is in accordance with regulations on geographical names issued by the State Council, China’s cabinet.
Among the official names of the 15 places, which were given precise coordinates, eight are residential areas, four are mountains, two are rivers, and one is a mountain pass. This is the second batch of standardised names of places in Arunachal Pradesh given by China. The first batch of the standardised names of six places was released in 2017.
In the light of this development, it does give rise to whether one can be optimistic about the talks to resolve the 21-month-long standoff in eastern Ladakh.
The Indian side will be led by Lt Gen Anindya Sengupta who took over as commander of the Leh-based XIV Corps from Lt Gen PGK Menon, was also part of the previous round of talks, during which the Indian delegation was led by Menon.
The latest round of talks comes on the heels of a series of incidents that have affected the already soured relationship between the two countries.
Besides renaming places in Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese embassy sent stern letters to Indian parliamentarians for attending a reception hosted by the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile last month and building a bridge on Pangong Tso in an area that India says is illegally occupied.
Taking strong exception, India has expressed annoyance over these moves with Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi saying “we hope that instead of engaging in such antics, China will work constructively with us to resolve the outstanding friction points in areas along the Western Sector of the LAC in India-China border areas.”
In this context, it is also necessary to see what the US Department of Defence in its 2021 report to US Congress “Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China,” said in 2020,… the COVID-19 pandemic was a driving force behind the PRC’s foreign policy efforts, as Beijing sought to deflect any culpability for the virus and its initial spread, and to capitalize on its narrative of domestic success and foreign assistance.
At the last round of talks on October 10 on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border personnel meeting point, India had expected that China would agree to disengage from Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in Hot Springs but it remained deadlocked with both sides blaming each other after the meeting.
Another factor which needs to be taken note of is the Training Mobilisation Order (TMO) issued by Chinese President Xi Jinping in January 2020 which called for “confrontational training,” for its troops and officers to assess their preparedness.
China has taken to tough posturing ever since the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic which started from Wuhan in China where the National Institute of Virology (NIV) is located. Since 2020, it has been seen how China has been flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and Taiwan almost simultaneously.
What is certain is that the CCP has a strategic end state that it is working towards, which if achieved and its accompanying military modernization left unaddressed, will have serious implications for U.S. national interests and the security of the international rules-based order, says the report of the US Department of Defence.
At the last meeting with the Chinese, India had said that during the discussions, it emphasised that “such resolution of the remaining areas would facilitate progress in bilateral relations” and had made “constructive suggestions for resolving the remaining areas”. However, it said, “the Chinese side was not agreeable and also could not provide any forward-looking proposals.”
Of the friction points that had, according to the government, come up in May 2020, disengagement has taken place in four out of five, while Hot Springs remains outstanding. However, there are two other points in the region that remain unresolved.
In Depsang Plains, close to India’s Daulat Beg Oldi base, Chinese troops are blocking Indian soldiers from accessing their traditional limits: PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13. In Demchok, some “so-called civilians” have pitched tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nala, which marks the Line of Actual Control (LAC) giving rise to the possibility of China adopting salami tactics in acquiring territory. Till now, the two sides have disengaged from PP14 in Galwan Valley, north and south banks of Pangong Tso, and PP17A in Gogra Post. The first disengagement took place in Galwan Valley just days after the deadly clashes in June 2020, in which 20 Indian and at least four Chinese troops were killed.
After that, there was a long stalemate, and China refused to move from other areas.
At the end of August 2020, Indian troops outmanoeuvred Chinese forces to capture previously unoccupied heights of Kailash Range in the Chushul sub-sector south of the Pangong lake. The heights, including Mukhpari, Gurung Hill, Rezang La and Rechin La allowed India to dominate not only the strategically sensitive Spanggur Gap, but also China’s Moldo Garrison.
In subsequent days, Indian troops also occupied positions above the Chinese troops on the north bank of Pangong Tso in the finger area. Warning shots were fired by both sides during this jostling for heights. Troops and tanks were barely a few hundred metres apart at some of these positions in the Kailash Range, and in an unprecedented deployment, soldiers spent harsh winters at these heights.
It was during the discussions between the Corps Commanders in January 2021 that a breakthrough was achieved. In February 2021, both sides pulled back their soldiers and tanks from the forward positions on the north and south bank of Pangong Tso, including the Kailash Range positions. The next thaw came in July 2021, as the two sides reached an agreement to disengage from PP17A in Gogra Post. In all the positions where the disengagement has taken place, a temporary no-patrol zone has been created.
Both India and China have over 50,000 troops each in the eastern Ladakh theatre, along with additional missiles, air defence assets, tanks and artillery guns.