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The latest news from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China is that effective measures are being taken to disengage at the Galwan valley and other areas in Eastern Ladakh and that the situation is stable and improving, according to Chinese sources. India has also reported that the Chinese were seen removing their temporary structures and completed withdrawal of its troops from the face-off site in Hot Springs in Eastern Ladakh. “We hope India will work together with us to take concrete action and implement the consensus reached and jointly work for de-escalation along the border,” said the Chinese spokesperson. Since the negotiations have now moved to the mechanism established for the settlement of the border, engagement can continue after the present disengagement, which should restore the status quo.


It was a three-pronged approach adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that brought a highly explosive situation along the LAC to the present stage of disengagement. A combination of willingness to hold negotiations, building up of military preparedness including mobilisation of forces in the region and carefully calibrated economic pressure had the desired impact. But uncertainty continues about the nature and timing of the disengagement. There are reports that in the process of negotiations, China has gained some advantages on the alignment of the LAC which will presumably be considered in the future negotiations. Questions are being asked why the Indian forces are withdrawing from our side of the LAC based on reports that a no-man’s land is being created in the Indian area.


Ironically, the war of 1962 had begun 97 days after the Chinese troops had agreed to withdraw from Galwan post. The difference is that this time China acknowledges that current bilateral ties are facing a “complex situation” and that both sides should adhere “to the strategic judgement that they do not pose a threat to each other.” But the real Chinese intention is far from clear. An Indian statement said that the two sides re-affirmed that both sides should strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control, and that they should not take any unilateral action to alter the status quo and work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in the border areas.


Right from the beginning, India had trusted the Chinese offer of negotiations after they crossed the Line of Actual Control in areas never before claimed by China. The Defence Minister exuded confidence that the whole matter will be resolved at the military and diplomatic level. It appeared on June 15 that the Chinese were ready to withdraw from Galwan valley. But the unexpected clash of that night during the process of disengagement and the resultant casualties on both sides changed the picture altogether. Following a statement by China that it would not withdraw from Galwan, the Prime Minister himself began to warn China that India would not hesitate to take military action to evict them. Earlier, at an All Party Meeting, he had said that no Indian territory was under occupation in the area, primarily to keep the temperature down. After he had received indication of support from the US, France and others, the Prime Minister made a dramatic visit to Ladakh, visited the wounded soldiers and addressed the troops.


“Everyone believes that peace and friendship are important for the progress of the nation, the world and humanity. But we also know that the weak can never bring peace. The weak cannot initiate peace. Bravery is the precondition for peace…..Whether it is a world war or a peace keeping effort – the world has seen the valour of our heroes and their efforts for world peace whenever needed. We have always worked for the protection of humanity. All of you are the leaders who have established this goal, tradition and this glorious culture of India,” he told the soldiers.


In a direct reference to China without mentioning it, the Prime Minister said:  “The era of colonial expansion is over; this is the era of evolution. Evolution is only relevant in rapidly changing times…...The world has always had this experience and on the basis of this experience, the whole world now has made up its mind against the policy of expansion. Today the world is devoted to development.” This was the first time that the Prime Minister directly attributed Chinese incursions on the border to its expansionist policy.


Strengthening India’s defence capability was another decisive step that India took. Orders placed for advanced weaponry were speeded up and new orders were placed. The world was left in no doubt that India would not hesitate to retaliate if there is any violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. Several countries extended support to the Indian position and agreed to speed up delivery of weapons.


The third step was in the area of reducing India’s economic involvement with China. India banned 59 Chinese lifestyle apps, which were earning massive profits in India and securing data for the Chinese Government. The ban, which has already caused mammoth losses to apps like Tik Tok, which has moved from the first position to the 200th position in 24 hours, has already caused ripples in China. The economic steps were meant to reduce our involvement with the Chinese in non-essential areas and not as a trade war. The Chinese foreign office expressed strong concern over the move, stating that the Chinese companies follow the rules of the game wherever they go and that the host government has the responsibility to uphold the “legitimate and legal rights” of international investors.


The reaction of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi was more harsh. “India’s measure, selectively and discriminatorily aims at certain Chinese apps on ambiguous and far-fetched grounds, runs against fair and transparent procedure requirements, abuses national security exceptions, and suspects of violating the WTO rules,” China said. It said that the move to ban these apps, which include the hugely popular Tik Tok, WeChat and UC Browser, among others, “goes against the general trend of international trade and e-commerce, and is not conducive to consumer interests and the market competition in India”.


India’s three-pronged approach appears to have resolved the present conflict by persuading China to withdraw from the Galwan valley and the other points to restore the status quo. But it remains to be seen whether China would honour its commitment to withdraw. Moreover, the cycle of high level negotiations, intrusion into the Indian area, clashes on the brink of war, disengagement and back to negotiations, while doing business as usual with India is likely to happen.


China has been trying to teach India lessons right from 1962. The time has come for India to learn the lesson that the situation can stabilise only if the border between the two countries is delineated and demarcated once and for all. The decision to cooperate with China in other matters while engaging in high level discussions on the border has encouraged China to delay the border settlement and to use the time to realign the Line of Actual Control to their advantage.


With the most recent experience in view, we should turn the three-pronged approach into a policy and insist that the way forward is to declare the delineation and demarcation of the whole length of the border as the “core issue” between the two countries and make the settlement of the border conditional to normal relations. The demonstration this time of our will and readiness to meet any contingency should be a lesson to China and it may be more amenable to speeding up the border settlement process. Neighbours without fences are a threat to peace, security and prosperity and the sooner the fences are erected and defended, the better it will be for both the nations.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.