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Ninth India China Senior Cdrs Meeting, Tactical and Strategic Hindrances

Published Dec 08, 2020
Updated Dec 08, 2020

A month after the Eighth India China Senior Commanders meeting held on November 6 with hopes of resolution of disengagement and de-escalation dilemma, a scheduled Ninth one is awaited. This even as troops on both sides are occupying positions on heights which can test human endurance and survival due to extreme cold, wind chill and lack of water amongst other factors. There are seemingly tactical and strategic factors as leaders on both sides are possibly weighing options for breaking the logjam. Here is a review of these-

Tactical Factors

The critical issue that is delaying the disengagement between India and China is disengagement on the Kailash Range that is the lofty feature heights on which were occupied by Indian troops on the Night of August 29/30 in a pre-emptive move with a view to gain an advantage over the Chinese as the area overlooks the G 219 the Highway from Xinjiang to Tibet connecting the two autonomous regions.

It is not clear if the Chinese had plans to occupy these features but it is evident that the maneouvre by the Indian Army to the south of the Pangong Tso provides a major strategic advantage and a leverage in negotiating the standoff with the Chinese.

Thus Chinese PLA Western Theatre Command had raised strong objections within hours of the occupation and is now insisting that disengagement should start from the Kailash Range features.

Indian side is possibly insisting that there cannot be a sector by sector approach but the process has to be across the board extending from the South of Pangong Tso to and including the Depsang Plains.

The Indian approach was highlighted by Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs who said in response to questions to a media briefing on December 03, “I will say as we have conveyed earlier, the two sides continue to maintain communication through diplomatic and military channels with the objective of ensuring complete disengagement in all friction points along the LAC in the western sector and for full restoration of peace and tranquility. Both sides have agreed to have another round of senior commanders meeting at an appropriate time, and as and when we have more information, we’ll be happy to share it with you”.

Both sides are presently insisting on continuing with the stalemate and are prepared to  wait out in the winters.

Strategic Factors

The strategic factors are related to India’s insistence that agreements for maintaining peace and tranqullity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) need to be honoured. This has been evident from several statements made by the Indian leadership particularly the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishanker.

Recently in response to a question on the clash in the Galwan Valley being premeditated, as indicated in the “US-China Economic and Security Review Commission  report”, Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson also indicated that obligations to treaties was important, “I would stress that the core issue remains that both sides need to strictly follow the various bilateral agreements and protocols in their entirety, including the 1993 and 1996 agreement on maintenance of peace and tranquility along the LAC in the border areas, which require that there should not be amassing of troops, each side should strictly abide by and respect the LAC and should not take any unilateral action to alter it”.

Additional issues

Meanwhile additional issues are cropping up such as building of dams on the Brahmaputra in Tibet which is said to lead to reduction in the flow in the river impacting lower riparian states as India and Bangladesh.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, official Spokesperson responding to questions on building of dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo or Brahmaputra  however played down the issue stating, “We have taken note of media reports in this regard and the Government has been carefully monitoring all developments in the Brahmaputra river. As a lower riparian state, with considerable established user rights to the waters of the trans-border rivers, we have consistently conveyed our views and concerns to the Chinese authorities”.

He added, “We have urged them to ensure that the interests of downstream states are not harmed by any activities in upstream areas. The Chinese side has conveyed to us on several occasions that they are only undertaking run-of-the-river hydropower projects, which do not involve diversion of the waters of the Brahmaputra”.

Expert level mechanisms are presumably discussing these issues as per Srivastava, “Various issues relating to trans-border rivers are discussed with China under the ambit of the institutionalized expert-level mechanism, which was established in 2006, as well as through diplomatic channels. We intend to remain engaged with China on the issue of trans-border rivers to safeguard our interests”.

Conclusion

Indeed, India China relations are entering complex “territory” [sic] with differences in multiple spheres. Underlying the challenges is growing mistrust which would have to be overcome to arrive at resetting engagement to normalisation, which presently appears to have limited scope unless there is a binding commitment by the top leadership to the series of agreements that have prevented differences being turned into disputes and conflicts.