THE tense standoff that started in early May at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh is nowhere near its end, even though India and China have held several rounds of talks at ministerial and military levels. On Wednesday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tried to explain why no breakthrough had been achieved so far. He stated that China had given India five ‘differing explanations’ for deploying large forces at the LAC, but he neither elaborated on these arguments nor mentioned whether or how India had countered them. China’s behaviour is predictable, but India should not miss any opportunity to rub it in. A point-by-point rebuttal would have lent credence to India’s claims. Jaishankar did admit that violations of bilateral pacts by China had ‘very significantly damaged’ their relationship that was now at its ‘most difficult phase’in the past 30-40 years.
His comments came a day after the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s business-as-usual statement that China and India are in ‘close communication’ on the border issue through diplomatic and military channels to ‘further ease tensions’. Communication alone can’t be of much help unless genuine efforts are made to bring visible improvement on the ground. It’s here that China has been found wanting. Last month, a ray of hope had emerged when the two armies broadly agreed on a three-step, time-bound process for the disengagement of troops and withdrawal of weaponry from all major friction points. This plan was in line with the roadmap worked out by Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow in September. However, China’s duplicity has precluded restoration of the status quo ante.
Both nations have signed several agreements in the past three decades or so with the purpose of keeping large forces away from the border areas, but the Chinese military build-up has undermined the pacts. China has sought to delink the border dispute from bilateral ties, but India has firmly refused to do so. But this is not enough to make China see reason. India should forcefully insist that the neighbour walk the talk, and soon, or drop all pretences.