The collapse of the latest round of military talks between India and China is not entirely surprising, given the growing intransigence of Beijing on resolving the border issues. It is clear that China has been using the talks as a strategic tool to buy time and fortify the positions. The failure of the 13th round of talks between the army commanders of the two countries, held at Moldo on the Chinese side in the Ladakh area, was due to the rigid stance adopted by the Chinese side which shot down several constructive suggestions made by the Indian side to reduce tensions along the border. The Himalayas have become the most dangerous flashpoint in the Indo-Pacific region now because China has been flexing its muscles in pursuit of its territorial ambitions. More than 17 months following China’s border aggression, India’s patience is wearing thin. Both countries have stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which separates the Himalayan territories from Ladakh in the west to the eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh. The latest round of talks came amid growing frustration in India over the massive deployment of troops and weaponry by the Chinese side. It is a matter of concern that the large-scale buildup has occurred and continues to be in place, and to sustain that kind of a buildup, there has been an equal amount of infrastructure development on the Chinese side.
Since the standoff began last year, the Chinese have been building dozens of large weather-proof structures along the LAC in eastern Ladakh for their troops to stay in during the winter. The Chinese infrastructure includes new helipads, widening of airstrips, new barracks, surface-to-air missile sites and radar locations, roads and housing. While disengagement happened at several locations, the PLA troops have not gone back to their traditional holding positions and continue to remain close to the LAC. China’s refusal to disengage from the Hot Springs area marks a volte-face because last year it had agreed to the disengagement plan and pulled back some of its troops. The process, however, was not completed. Following the talks between External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in September, the two countries had agreed that the prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side as it was adversely impacting the bilateral ties. A resolute response on the border, coupled with strong economic measures, has sent across a message that India is no pushover and that it will be firm in all fields including defence, even as it seeks friendly relations with Beijing.
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