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NEW DELHI : More talks are expected between India and China this week to resolve tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Several rounds of talks have taken place between the brigade commanders of the two countries, which have not yielded any results. Now, an intervention —at the level of Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar or national security adviser Ajit Doval, the special representative for border talks with China —may be needed to resolve the deadlock.

According to officials and analysts, the recent incidents in Ladakh and Sikkim were of a more serious nature than before. In 2013, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had established a camp around 20km inside Indian territory in Ladakh’s Depsang area. After three weeks of consultations and flag meetings, the issue was resolved. A little more than a year later, there was a second incident in Chumar sector of Ladakh when Chinese troops tried to construct a temporary 2km road in Indian territory.

In 2017, Indian and Chinese troops yet again engaged in a tense standoff at Doklam, in Bhutan, which lasted 73 days.

But this time, the incident is not restricted to one area, stretching across locations along the 3,488-km LAC, said analysts. In Ladakh alone, Indian and Chinese armies have added reinforcements in Demchok, Galwan river and Pangong Tso lake, said people familiar with the developments. The situation led to scuffles at Pangong Tso on 5-6 May and at Naku La in Sikkim on 9 May. According to one person, the PLA has pitched around 80 tents at the Galwan river. The situation was so tense that Indian Army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane paid a visit to Leh, the headquarters of the Indian Army’s 14 Corps, on Friday for a review.

The immediate trigger, at least in Ladakh, seems to be India’s move to construct a link road connecting the 255km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road, which is key for the army to access the LAC border near Aksai Chin. In recent years, India has been pressing ahead with infrastructure construction along the LAC, both in the western (Ladakh) and eastern (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) sectors, though New Delhi has some way to go to match Chinese infrastructure in the border areas.

“Improvement in transportation and communications have led to the two armies patrolling these border areas better, and more frequently," said former Indian ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale. “Hence, the possibility of patrols coming face to face is greater. This is the dynamics we are seeing. But, there are detailed standard operating procedures to de-escalate such situations and both sides should stick to these." But this does not seem to entirely explain the current tensions between India and China.

According to Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, one explanation could be China’s pique at seeing India back a resolution at last week’s World Health assembly that called for an examination into the origins of the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes covid-19. “This may be also China’s way of telling countries like India that there could be a cost for supply chains moving out of China" Kondapalli said, referring to countries looking to move manufacturing units out of China following the disruption caused by covid-19.

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