De-escalation or deception

Less than a fortnight after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi came up with a five-point roadmap to resolve the Ladakh standoff, the corps commander-level talks between the two countries seem to have made some headway. In a joint statement, Indian and Chinese armies have agreed to stop sending more troops to the frontline, desist from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground and avoid actions that may complicate matters. All that sounds good, but it’s the implementation that will count. China’s blatant disregard for previous agreements has led to renewed hostilities of late.

Disengagement of troops from the friction points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a prerequisite for de-escalation of tensions. Over the past four months or so, eastern Ladakh has seen it all — bloody skirmishes, firing of shots, incursions by Chinese troops and pre-emptive action by Indian soldiers. Several rounds of talks at the military level didn’t bear fruit as the Chinese army persisted with its brazen misadventures. On the diplomatic front, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently conveyed India’s firm stand to his Chinese counterpart in Moscow, followed by the Jaishankar-Yi talks.

Adopting an unusually conciliatory tone, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his pre-recorded address to the UN General Assembly that his country would ‘continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation.’ This should be music to India’s ears, but past experience has shown that China can be taken at face value only at one’s peril. India can’t afford to let its guard down along the entire 3,488-km-long LAC. With the Ladakh region bracing itself for a typically harsh winter beginning next month, the Indian troops would have to step up vigil to ensure that the Chinese army doesn’t try to capitalise on the bad weather to make mischief. India shouldn’t expect a quick end to the border standoff, which has remained under the glare of the international community. With the US and its allies calling China’s military actions unprovoked and provocative, India needs to cash in on this support to make the neighbour mend its ways.

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