India Calls for Dialogue With China Over Border Tensions
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
Following last week’s talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe whilst on the sidelines of the Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar announced on Twitter that an agreement has been made to soon hold a meeting between Indian and Chinese Senior Defense Commanders.
The root cause of the dispute is the 3,440km-long border. Rivers, lakes and snowcaps along the frontier means that the undefined border line can shift, bringing soldiers face to face at many points. For New Delhi, controlling this territory, where many of Ancient India’s greatest philosophers and gurus originate from, is about securing water sources and halting Pakistani-backed terrorists from destabilizing the region. For Beijing, controlling the region secures the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, perhaps one of the most important projects of the Belt and Road Initiative as it links Pakistan’s Port of Gwadar with China’s western provinces.
China has proposed a return to normality in border control and tension management. India believes that maintaining peace and quiet in the border area is important for developing relations with China. The agreement to at least hold a meeting between the Senior Defense Commands was one of the most successful and unexpected outcomes of the ministerial meeting.
It is likely that the military leaders of the two countries will confirm further confidence-building measures, such as expanding consultation and coordination mechanisms on India-China border issues. There are many communication channels between the two militaries to avoid random clashes on the border, as has occurred in previous years. This is to eliminate the potential of a small incident leading to a major conflict.
The upcoming meeting is expected to increase communication between Indian and Chinese border post commanders, companies, battalions, regiments and divisions in order to avoid misunderstandings at all levels that could lead to an escalation of tensions. Most likely, the military leaders will discuss the issue of controlling the situation in real time, as well as what measures can be taken.
The meeting in Dushanbe was the first face-to-face meeting of the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers since last September when they met in Moscow. Wang Yi said that after the meeting in the Russian capital, India and China withdrew their troops from the disputed area and that the overall situation had improved. The Minister proposed expanding the dynamics of positive cooperation and move from emergency responses to a situation on the border to management and control. According to Wang Yi, this will help remove obstacles in bilateral relations caused by border incidences.
For his part, the Indian foreign minister stressed that unilaterally changing the status quo in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) area is unacceptable to India. The Minister said that the complete restoration and maintenance of peace in border areas is a basic condition for the development of bilateral relations. He later tweeted that the discussion with Wang Yi focused on unresolved issues on the border along the western side of the LAC. Jaishankar told Wang Yi that the withdrawal of all troops from the Pangong Tso Lake area in February created the conditions to resolve outstanding problems. Both sides are currently negotiating to continue the process of de-escalation at the remaining points of confrontation on the border.
The India-China border situation remains unstable because of mutual mistrust between the two sides, but the situation must be resolved. Both sides want to avoid the risk of reoccurring conflict in the Galvan Valley. China is not satisfied with the fact that India is building infrastructure in the border area. For its part, India says that this is not an escalation but that construction is needed because China is ahead of them infrastructurally and it is China who regularly moves troops in the region.
Beijing would also hope that with the easing of border tensions, India’s role in QUAD, a bloc comprising also of the U.S., Australia and Japan with the aim of containing China, will be lessened. This would be of particular importance as it is becoming evident that in the case of a naval war with China, India is expected by the other three bloc members to participate, but there are no guarantees that in a land war between the two Asian Giants that QUAD members will commit troops.
Essentially, India is expected to engage in a naval war with China far away from its borders, perhaps in the South China Sea or Pacific Ocean, but there are no guarantees that Japanese, American and Australian infantry will defend India in a land-based war against China in the heights of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. For this reason, it is also in the interest of Indian security to achieve a cold peace with China over the disputed border as it is likely that India would stand alone if such a war ever broke out.
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