India-China border row may not end anytime soon, say analysts

Both sides agreed to continue with the talks as well as diplomatic engagement to find a breakthrough

Elizabeth Roche
Updated8 Jun 2020
India’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that the lieutenant general-level talks were 'cordial and positive'
India’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that the lieutenant general-level talks were ’cordial and positive’(Photo: Reuters)

Talks between India and China to defuse tensions along their border are expected to be a long-drawn-out affair this time, said analysts, after discussions between senior military commanders ended inconclusively on Saturday.

The dialogue, at the level of lieutenant generals, was the first of its kind between the two countries.

It was held on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Moldo, which borders Chushul in Ladakh, and came after a dozen meetings at lower levels aimed at tamping down tempers that flared when 250 Indian and Chinese troops exchanged blows along the banks of the Pangong Tso lake on 4-5 May.

India’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that the lieutenant general-level talks were “cordial and positive”. Both countries agreed to continue with the talks as well as diplomatic engagement to find a breakthrough and to ensure peace and tranquillity along the border, it said.

“Both sides agreed to peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements and keeping in view the agreement between the leaders that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border regions is essential for the overall development of bilateral relations,” it said in a statement, referring to an understanding reached in April 2018 in Wuhan between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Xinping. “Both sides also noted that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and agreed that an early resolution would contribute to the further development of the relationship.”

“There were some positive signals from the meeting,” said a person familiar with the discussions, which were led on the Indian side by Lt. Gen. Harinder Singh, the general officer commanding of Leh-based 14 Corps, and on the Chinese side by the Commander of the Tibet Military District. The person declined to elaborate on the talks.

Former Indian ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, however, struck a note of caution, saying, “This is the Indian statement. We need to see what the Chinese side says though they may not come out with a statement at all.” In his assessment, the talks are “likely to be long-drawn-out and difficult”.

India’s position at the talks was the immediate “restoration of status quo ante”, which means the Chinese side must move troops back to positions held before the tensions began on 5 May. But the fact that this was not mentioned in the Indian statement showed that the talks were “complicated,” said a second person familiar with India-China negotiations.

The trigger for the current face-off has been China’s stiff opposition to India laying a key road around Pangong Tso lake besides building a link road connecting Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Galwan Valley. China has deployed troops in Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley, built temporary infrastructure and amassed weaponry.

Bambawale said, “One of the arguments being made is that China is using border tensions to signal India against aligning with the US. To me, this seems absurd. Raising border tensions will turn public opinion against China. And public opinion plays a role in formulation of government policy. Instead of keeping India balanced between the US on the one hand and China on the other, it may be driving India into the arms of the US.”

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