Conflict Alerts # 160, 16 September 2020
In the news
On 10 September 2020, the External Affairs Minister of India and State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China met each other on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Moscow. They issued a Five-Point Action Plan that assured: "to continue dialogue to disengage as quickly as possible, maintaining a necessary".
The Five-Point Action Plan stressed on the guidance from the series of consensus of the leaders so that the differences do not become dispute, the border troops should continue their dialogue, abiding all the existing agreements and protocol on the boundary, dialogue through Special Representative and the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination and as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to achieve new Confidence Building Measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
On 16 September 2020, according to the Hindu, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson in response to the Indian Defence Minister stated: "The responsibility for the current situation does not lie with China...The most urgent and important task is for the Indian side to immediately correct its wrong course of action, disengage on the ground as soon as possible, and take concrete actions to promote easing of the situation."
Earlier, on 15 September, the Defence Minister of India made a statement in the Parliament, placing the blame on China for "disregard of our various bilateral agreements."
Issues at large
First, the elusive breakthrough in breaking the impasse at the border level. The recent meeting of the ministers come at the backdrop of heightened tensions at the India-China border area in the Ladakh sectors. The stand-off has lasted for over four and a half months and has led to the death of 20 soldiers from India and an unknown number from the Chinese side. Diplomatic and military attempts during this period could not diffuse the tensions at the border.
Second, the purpose of the meeting was to achieve the "principle of disengagement" of troops because the presence of troops on both sides were a violation of 1993 and 1996 agreements. There seems to be a difference between the two sides on this issue - in terms of who is in violation of these two agreements.
Third, the linkage between border developments and bilateral engagements. Besides the recent joint statement, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a separate statement that stated; "it is normal for China and India to have some differences as two neighbouring powers, but to put the differences in the proper place in bilateral relations, the key is to uphold the leaders of the two countries that China and India are not competitors but cooperation. Partners, the strategic consensus that they do not pose a threat to each other and are opportunities for development." On the contrary, India has specified that the bilateral relations cannot be isolated from the border issue.
Fourth, the official statements reflect a different position. The statements by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman and the Indian defence minister, as mentioned above, highlights the difference between the core problem - who has violated the earlier bilateral agreements.
Although the Five-Point Action Plan or the "new Panchsheel" has diffused the tension, for now, there are many divergences that remain. There is no indication that either side has changed its stance on how the disengagement will proceed. There is no time frame for the withdrawal of troops. Hence much will depend on the next round of military commander level talks.
Even after these talks, the LAC continues to be ambiguous. Instead of using the term LAC in the joint statement, "border area" was used. The moot question of the extent of the LAC frontier persist.