Over two months after the violent stand-off in the Ladakh region that led to casualties on both sides, China is back to its old devious ways to change the status quo at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops have violated the consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements and carried out provocative military movements near the southern bank of Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh. Though Indian troops swiftly thwarted the activity, the latest development exposes Beijing’s failure to adhere to the terms of the disengagement process. Given the growing trend of China’s territorial hegemony and muscle-flexing in the region, India has adopted a cautious approach with calibrated messaging. For instance, New Delhi has sent the right message by choosing not to take part in Kavkaz 2020 military drills, scheduled to be held in Russia next month, because Pakistan and China are participating in it. In the five rounds of Corps Commander-level talks, the Indian side has been insisting on complete disengagement of Chinese troops at the earliest, and immediate restoration of status quo ante in all areas of eastern Ladakh. The tension between the two sides had escalated manifold after the violent clashes in the Galwan Valley in June in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed. The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.
A complete disengagement of troops can be achieved only through mutually agreed reciprocal actions. There have been precedents of border skirmishes between the two countries being resolved through diplomacy. The disengagement requires re-deployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC and this can be done only through mutually agreed actions. China’s suggestion that India should look at the ‘big picture’ of bilateral ties to bring the relationship back on the normal track sounds hollow if it fails to honour the consensus on the disengagement of troops. Following the bitter experience in the Galwan Valley, the government gave the armed forces full freedom to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure along the LAC. The Army sent thousands of additional troops to forward locations along the border following the deadly clashes. The IAF has also moved air defence systems as well as a sizable number of its frontline combat jets and attack helicopters to several key airbases. Despite the obvious asymmetry between the two nations — the size of India’s economy is one-fourth of China’s while Beijing enjoys vast military superiority —India continues to punch above its weight. Cautious aggression is the way forward while dealing with China.
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