India has to respond cautiously to the overtures from China
After several months of skirmishes and unease along the Ladakh border in which both the sides suffered casualties, India and China have agreed not to engage in any action that could lead to escalation of hostilities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The latest of the several announcements on easing the tensions on the border came after a 14-hour long meeting between the officials of both sides on Monday. There have been assurances on both sides on not to engage in escalatory behaviour, but there appears to be no agreement on “disengagement” at the friction points. It has to be noted that aggressive behaviour of China prompted India to retaliate with equal force, leading to deployment of more troops on the front line. The armies of both the countries are within the firing range. The ground for the latest agreement to “ease tensions” was laid at the meeting between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10. The two countries have agreed to adopt a five-point approach to resolve tensions.
The good part of the Monday meeting was that the two sides had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on stabilising the situation along the LAC. It has been agreed by both the sides to implement earnestly the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, strengthen communication on the ground, avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments, stop sending more troops to the frontline, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, and avoid taking any actions that could lead to complicating the environment. These steps will help in building trust between the two sides. Adherence to the agreement would lead to the two countries moving towards disengagement, thereby paving way to de-escalation of hostilities. The agreement and subsequent actions by the armies of China and India are bound to lead to ushering in peace along their borders, which leaders of both the countries are apparently keen to restore. Much would depend on the outcome of the seventh round of military commander-level talks of both the countries to be held soon.
Even as the two countries agreed to end hostile activities along the LAC, Chinese President Xi Jinping in a virtual address to the United Nations General Assembly said that his country has no intention of fighting either a “cold war” or a “hot war” with any country. His remarks are seen as an attempt to assure the world his country would take steps to soothe tempers in the backdrop of the tense military standoff between Chinese and Indian armies in Ladakh for over four months. Jinping’s statement that China will continue to narrow the differences and resolve disputes with others through negotiations was to buttress his stance. Jinping’s statements are obviously aimed as a response to the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Ladakh on July 4 in which he, in an oblique reference to Chinese incursions, said that “expansionists” have either lost or perished.
India and the rest of the world will watch if Jinping’s statement was a prelude to China taking concrete steps to end hostilities between India and China or an attempt to hoodwink India yet again. History has clear evidence that China has betrayed the trust of India on several occasions and failed to honour the agreements signed by the two countries and advanced claims based on untenable grounds. Attempts towards normalization of relations without taking adequate safeguards may prove to be a costly error. At a time when the world is fighting the coronavirus pandemic, neither India nor China or for that matter any country can afford to increase hostilities along the borders with neighbours as there is all the possibility of them leading to a full-blown war. As the world is witnessing a grave economic situation in wake of coronavirus pandemic, any attempt to settle scores through war would prove disastrous not only for the two neighbouring countries but others in the region as well as the world. However, as India’s neighbours, be it China or Pakistan, have failed to respect the integrity of our country and its borders by launching assaults in different forms, our response towards détente should be guarded.