How China is using India's pandemic crisis to keep border standoff alive

Edited By: Gravitas desk WION
New Delhi, India Published: Apr 20, 2021, 11:08 PM(IST)

India China LAC dispute Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

No movement and no pullback has taken place at the border and after a promising start, talks between the countries have stalled

For six days, India has reported over 200 new Covid infections daily. But New Delhi is unable to take its eyes off the border with China. China is using the pandemic in India to keep the border stand-off intact, and to accept the status quo. Essentially, China is walking away from disengagement.

No movement and no pullback has taken place at the border and after a promising start, talks between the countries have stalled. China seems unwilling to discuss disengagement any further. In February this year, both India and China had agreed to disengage at Pangong Tso - the long and narrow lake in Ladakh which was one of the flash points in the standoff. Disengagement was completed in 10 days after both militaries moved back to their respective sides.

A four kilometre long buffer zone was created, and patrols to the Line of Actual Control were suspended temporarily.

What about the other flash points?

India and China agreed to keep talking about other flash points in February. But now China refuses to disengage further. Hot Springs, Gogra Post and Depsang Plains are the other flash points. Reports say China had earlier agreed to pull back troops from here. But not anymore.

According to one report, China still has platoon level strength with vehicles in at least two areas - Hot Springs and the Gogra Post. A platoon is a military unit that is usually made up of two or more squads of troops. Reports say China has at least 60 soldiers in the Gogra-Hot Springs area.

Also read: China's PLA has deployed advanced rocket launchers in western theatre command: Report

So far, India and China have held 11 rounds of military level talks. The last one happened on April 9. It is believed that during that round, China behaved as if it is no longer interested in discussing the border dispute.

Reports say the Chinese told the Indian side that they should "be happy with what has been achieved".

What triggered this shift?  

Firstly, China reportedly wanted both sides to first de-escalate, then disengage. China wanted a pullback of additional troops first, removal of the back-up, and then disengagement at the frontline. India refused because this situation would have worked in China's favour. It can move its troops much faster than India, for it has better infrastructure on the Chinese side.

If both sides pull back additional troops and there's another conflict, Chinese support will reach much faster than Indian support, weakening India’s border defences. One analyst believes that tensions can escalate, for the lack of progress in talks, the arrival of summer, and the US drive to strengthen ties with China’s neighbours.

Also read: Indo-China partnership under 'considerable strain' due to 2020 LAC incident, says Indian envoy to China

China could already be escalating border deployments. Reports say that China has deployed a long range rocket launcher as "a deterrent to India". An advanced system, it is deployed 17,000 feet above sea level in Xinjiang, which shares a border with India. China has not only deployed a rocket launcher close to the border, it's also conducting drills.

India is still looking for a diplomatic solution but it may not be easy. The last round of talks ended without a joint statement. Since September last year, India and China have been releasing joint statements to play up the prospect of disengagement. This time, they did not. Instead, New Delhi did some straight talking.

On Monday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar spoke about the standoff and said that China brought enormous force to the border without provocations. He added that India must "have a return to peace and tranquillity on border, and there are no two ways about it".

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