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A year after Galwan - India-China Relations

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June 15, 2021

What is the issue?

  • On June 15, 2020, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) witnessed its first deaths after 1975, in a violent clash with China in Galwan in Ladakh.
  • After an year, here is an assessment of the military and geopolitical situation.

What is the current situation?

  • Militarily, the current situation in Ladakh is not bad.
  • There is a continued deployment of 50,000-60,000 soldiers.
  • With this, the Indian Army has been able to hold the line to prevent any further ingress by the China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
  • The Chinese presence on the Indian side of the LAC in Gogra, Hot Springs and Demchok gives the PLA some tactical advantage.
  • But the area which majorly jolts Indian military plans is the Chinese control of Depsang Plains.

What are the shortcomings in India's approach?

  • Militarily, Chinese incursions in Ladakh have shown that the idea of deterrence has failed.
  • Many retired military officers feel that the Indian Army had only weakened its negotiating position during the talks with the PLA.
  • In any case, there has been no progress in talks after the disengagement at Pangong lake and Kailash range in February 2021.
  • There is no record of the Cabinet Committee on Security being convened to discuss the Ladakh border situation.
  • No official briefing or press conference about the situation in Ladakh has taken place in the last 13 months since the Ladakh crisis.
  • The official excuse was operational security, but the actual reason was to avoid political embarrassment for the government in power.
  • This is because PLA soldiers remain in control of what was hitherto in Indian control.

What is the recent policy in this regard?

  • Defence Minister recently approved a revised policy on how India compiles, archives and disseminates its war documents and related history.
  • As per the new policy, once an operation/war is completed, the first cut of history is to be prepared.
  • It will be disseminated for internal circulation within 5 years.
  • Whether this first draft of history is to be placed in the public domain or not, will be determined on a case by case basis.
  • It will depend on the sensitivity of the operation/war.
  • [Predictably, the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report relating to the 1962 war with China, which is still under wraps, will not be part of the new policy.
  • Apparently, another committee will take a view on previous wars.]

How does the future look?

  • A return to the status quo ante of April 2020 in Ladakh remains a far from reality.
  • The Chinese side refuses to engage meaningfully.
  • India argues that there could be no normalcy without restoration of status quo ante at the borders.
  • With the widening power gap between New Delhi and Beijing, the challenge is as much economic as it is geopolitical.
  • A new reset in bilateral ties is difficult because China is now in a different league, competing with the U.S.
  • India will never be comfortable taking sides in a new Cold War between the U.S. and China.
  • Beijing seems as keen as New Delhi to avoid a military conflict, though accidents such as Galwan can never be ruled out.
  • India thus has to live with this tense and uneasy calm with China for some time, a challenge brought to the fore by the Ladakh crisis.
  • The Ladakh crisis has also led India to relook external partnerships, particularly with the United States.
  • The military importance of the Quad remains arguable.
  • The choices made in New Delhi will have a significant impact on the future of global geopolitics.

What is the way forward?

  • The Galwan anniversary should encourage the Indian government to set up an independent panel of experts.
  • This should review the institutional lapses that led to an altered LoAC (Line of Actual Control) in the Ladakh sector.

 

Source: The Hindu, The Indian Express

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