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India, China working to keep uneasy truce but uncertainties at play: Analysts

ISSUE-2-ENG-02-10-2020-India (1)

India and China were working to keep an uneasy truce between them in place, focusing on maintaining stability on along their tense borders but analysts warned of many uncertainties in play, given that China has previously sprung surprises and shifted goalposts.

Both countries were looking to schedule a new round of talks between top military commanders that would focus on disengaging troops and de-escalating tensions that have been running high since May when New Delhi detected intrusions into its territory by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“As agreed in the last Senior Commander’s meeting (on 21 September), the two sides are now working to schedule the next (7th) round of the meeting so that both sides can work towards early and complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) in accordance with the existing bilateral agreement and protocols, and fully restore peace and tranquility," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava told reporters at a weekly press conference. He was referring to the talks in Moldo, on the Chinese side of the LAC. At the end of that round, it was agreed to have “more rounds of talks as issues (involved) are complex."

Strengthening ground level communications between the militaries to avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments, stop sending more troops to the frontline, and avoiding actions complicating the situation were some of the points of concurrence at the 21 September meeting.

The commander level talks were an outcome of a meeting on 10 September between the foreign ministers of India and China in Moscow. That also paved the way for a temporary truce that is still holding though the tens of thousands of soldiers are ranged against each other backed up by tanks, missiles and air support. At some points, the troops are less than a kilometre apart.

According to analysts, though there was an uneasy calm prevailing, it was difficult to predict how the situation would unfold in the coming days.

“When the India-China tensions started in May, there were doubts that this was because of India building infrastructure in Ladakh," said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“There was a build up of troops, there were intrusions, we had a violent clash (on 15 June in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed) in Galwan valley. Then the focus changed to disengagement and de-escalation," he said.

This week, China said it did not recognize the LAC but adhered to a 1959 claim line, Kondapllai said adding that Beijing also said it does not recognize the union territory of Ladakh.

But in a speech on Wednesday, to mark the 71st National Day of China, Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong seemed to strike a conciliatory note, stating that “China-India relations go far beyond the bilateral scope and have great significance to the region and the world at large."

“Whenever the situation gets difficult, it is all the more important to ensure the stability of the overall relationship and preserve mutual trust," Sun said adding that “expanding convergence and cooperation is the key."

Given all these conflicting signals, New Delhi needs to wait and see how the talks with Beijing move forward and see if the outcomes are implemented on the ground, Kondapalli said.

“China right now is busy with its National Day celebrations," Kondapalli said referring to events marking 1 October, 1949 when Chinese leader Mao Zedong proclaimed founding of People's Republic of China after Communist forces won a 20-year civil war. “When they come back to the talks table, one has to see how the dialogue progresses. Either the border problem has to be addressed which means sit down for talks to resolve it. Or both sides need to find ways to ensure peace on the border pending a resolution," Kondapalli said. “So far China’s strategy seems to be to shift the goalposts and trying to keep India off balance," he said.

Given the approaching winter, if a disengagement plan cannot be worked out soon, troops of both countries will be staying deployed on the mountains in Ladakh, he added.