Even though the Chinese soldiers were forced to make a retreat in Chumar after the high level diplomatic and political pressure and the activation of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, it will not improve the sentiments in bilateral relations in near future.
If the Chinese soldiers would not have come face to face with the Indian soldiers in Chumar and Demchok region of Eastern Laddakh on the Line of Actual Control in early September for a fortnight, India-China relations after President Xi Jinping’s visit to India would have been described as a forward moving with lot of promises to cooperate for strengthening bilateral relations in trade and political arena.
Chinese President’s visit was being watched closely in international strategic circles in view of evolving geo-politics and regional equations and Chinese efforts to woo India to join its various regional trade and economic initiatives like the Maritime Silk routes and the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) economic corridor. Many in India were already viewing these as strategic moves hidden in economic agenda aimed at dissuading India from joining the US and Japanese economic and strategic groupings. However, the Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman emphasized that the important consensus reached between President Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will keep the borders calm and drive the relationship forward.
Military face off
However, the view in India does not match with Chinese sentiments. They say that the military face off has cast a long shadow on the immediate prospects of improved bilateral relations. It has further eroded the credibility of the Chinese intentions and will further widen the trust deficit.
It will further strengthen the impression that the Chinese leaders indulge in double speak. In Beijing the leaders talk of the necessity of two countries holding each others hand and coming together on international forums while on the borders the Chinese soldiers do the exact reverse, by trying to humiliate the Indian Army by encroaching upon Indian territory. This creates an eyeball to eyeball situation which pours cold water on the warmth created by the political leaderships in Beijing and New Delhi.
Last year also, just on the eve of the visit of Prime Minister Li Ke Qiang to India on 20th May, the Chinese Army had intruded into the Depsang area of Ladakh and was compelled to return back to their original position when the Indian government almost threatened to cancel the Prime Minister’s visit to New Delhi.
The Chinese government had given much importance to the fact that its new Prime Minister had embarked on his first international tour to India. While India was spreading red carpet for Prime Minister Le Ke Qiang, Chinese soldiers in Depsang cast a shadow on his visit. Post Li visit last year, in view of overtures from China, India was trying to ignore the Depsang face-off, and however the recurrence of similar incident in Chumar will leave a long-lasting scar on the bilateral relations which will erase only with time and in the absence of any further aggression on the LAC.
It is intriguing why, this year again on the eve of the Chinese President’s visit to India the Chinese Army repeated the similar incident on the Line of Actual Control.
Sometime strategic observers speculate that there is a disconnect between the Chinese government and the Chinese PLA. But one fails to understand that how can this be the case if the Chinese Central Military Commission which is headed by the President of China to which the Chief of Peoples Liberation Army reports.
There were reports that before the Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally met President Xi in New Delhi on 18th September afternoon, he did a plain talk to him and an unnerved President Xi reportedly told him that the Chinese troops will go back. When the Chinese Army further reinforced in Chumar, giving no indication that the bonhomie displayed between the two sides in Ahmedabad and New Delhi had any impact on the otherwise tranquil border, the Indian Prime Minister expressed his deep resentment during the formal talks and did some tough talking.
It was visible from the facial expression of the Chinese President when he appeared before the media along with Prime Minister Modi. Though the two leaders came out with statements of reaffirmation of maintaining strong friendship and cooperation in various forums, the border incursion incidents marred the solemn occasion.
The otherwise productive meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi was overshadowed by the Chumar and Demchok incursions. The Joint statement issued after the summit deliberations explicitly stated, “The leaders evaluated positively the progress of India-China relations over the recent years, and noted that both sides always consider their relations from a strategic and overall perspective. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to abide by the principles and consensus both had agreed to, and further consolidates the Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and mutual respect and sensitivities for each other’s concerns and aspirations.”
The two sides also reiterated their commitment to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution of the boundary question, proceeding from the overall interests of bilateral relations. Recalling the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary Question signed in April 2005, both sides reiterated their commitment to an early settlement of the boundary question and expressed their conviction that this will advance basic interests of the two countries and shall, therefore, be pursued as a strategic objective.
The two sides have been expressing similar intent whenever the top leaders meet, but the ground situation is getting more critical and fragile with each passing day. As both sides have ambitious plans to strengthen the military infrastructure and deployment and in view of undemarcated LAC, both have to make intense vigil on this.
India has requested the Chinese interlocutors several times to demarcate the Line of Actual Control till the border negotiations are completed, but Chinese are not paying any heed to this. They fear that the demarcated LAC will turn into a de-facto international border.
The Chinese have been propounding the Maritime Silk Route (MSR) concept to counter the US proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Rebalancing Asia strategy. The US wants India to be a partner in these proposals and if India joins the US moves, the balance will tilt heavily against China in the Asia Pacific region.
Hence the Chinese have come out with a grand idea of MSR, originating from Chinese city of Fujian to pass through South East Asian countries and enter South Asia and then reach Africa and further move towards Europe. China has come out with this proposal on the excuse of reviving the ancient maritime trade routes through which the Chinese silk was exported throughout the world centuries ago.
If China seriously wants India to be part of these strategic economic initiatives, it will have to woo India with a favorable border deal. India would not be satisfied with mere promise of maintenance of peace and tranquility on the LAC which is extremely fragile.
It is interesting to note that immediately after his return to Beijing, President Xi called a meeting of the top brass of PLA and exhorted them to be ready to fight a regional war. The Chinese foreign ministry later explained in view of widespread media coverage in India relating this to the situation on Ladakh, that it was merely a wild guess and not intended for India. But experts believe that the history is evident with incidences that China speaks in mysterious double meaning language which is its old style. Therefore Sino-Indian relations can warm up only in the atmosphere of transparency and good behavior which will create trust between the two nations to engage in visionary ideas.