On August 2, China and India held the fifth round of military commander-level negotiations to discuss disengagement in the disputed areas on the line of actual control. Prior to this, on the afternoon of July 30, at a regular press conference held by the Ministry of National Defense, the spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defense, Ren Guoqiang, introduced the situation on the Sino-Indian border, saying that the current situation on the ground is tending to ease and the border defense forces of the two countries are working to gradually move away from close contact.
On the same day, the statement of the spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs struck a somewhat different note, claiming that progress had been made at some confrontation points along the Sino-Indian border, but the disengagement process was not completed.
The slight difference between the spokespersons of the two countries highlight the different perceptions of the two countries. After the Galwan Valley clash on June 15, the situation on the Sino-Indian border once showed a high degree of tension. In particular, India has taken a series of irrational “retaliatory” measures, including banning of Chinese applications, restrictions on Chinese investment, restricting Chinese goods imports, etc., and advancing towards, or hinting at, policy adjustments on issues related to Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, and South China Sea. Taken together, these small steps suggest the likelihood of policy adjustments being made. Many influential persons amongst Indian social elites claimed “repositioning” of Sino-Indian relations and even “alignment with the United States” to confront China.
Prime Minister Modi publicly stated at the National Party Conference on June 19 that no one entered Indian territory and no Indian outpost facilities were dismantled, which was a euphemism for acknowledging that the responsibility for the clash in the Galwan Valley lay with India. However, this has not stopped the escalation of nationalist sentiment in India. Subsequently, Modi, accompanied by the Secretary of Defense, the Chief of Defense Staff, and the Chief of Army Staff, made a surprise visit to Leh on July 3. On July 17, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh also visited Leh with Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat and Army Chief of Staff Manoj Naravane. At the same time, India continues to place orders for various advanced weapon systems (including light tanks for mountain operations), requiring various weapon sellers to advance deliveries of weapons purchased previously. On July 29, after France delivered five of the Rafale fighter jets it had purchased, India even showed them off in a high-profile manner, claiming that its confidence had increased greatly. Even more importantly, India is continuing to reinforce troops to the western section of the border, according to Indian media reports, and plans to send 35,000 more troops. Senior figures in the Indian Cabinet have also repeatedly claimed that “the sacrifices of soldiers will not be allowed to remain in vain”, “things are not like 1962 now” and so on.
While China is trying to cool down the border situation, India has clearly and continuously adopted postures and measures to heat things up, behaving as if it would not “yield” to China. The real purpose of India’s hotting up things is clear: most importantly, it is to try to achieve a solution to the border confrontation in accordance with India’s unilateral wishes on the basis of boosting India’s strength in the western section of the border and sending out strong signals. More specifically, that the situation in the Western section of the China-India border should be restored to the situation in April 2020, according to revelations in the Indian media.
At the third round of military commander-level talks held by the Sino-Indian border guards on June 30, the two sides have made positive progress in taking effective measures to disengage the front-line troops and ease the border situation. The front line forces of the two sides have gradually disengaged by the beginning of July. Subsequently, the disengagement of forces has been completed in three areas — Galwan River Valley, Hot Springs, and Kongka La Pass. India, on the other hand, hopes to achieve disengagement based on the so-called “line of actual control” unilaterally delineated by India in the Pangong Lake and Depsang areas.
India’s so-called “restoration of status quo ante as of April” is not a constructive request. It is more like an “exorbitant demand”. New Delhi wants to conceal the basic reality that India was the one to first undermine the status quo on the western section of the Sino-Indian border. It had greatly enhanced its strength locally after completion of the Durbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DSDBO) highway in April 2020. Since April 2020, India has built on this advantage by building roads and bridges across the border in the Galwan Valley, building helipads and highways on the east bank of the Shyok River, and building bailey bridges across the Shyok and Galwan Rivers. Genuine peace and tranquility along the Sino-Indian border can prevail only if India gives up its “encroachments” by taking advantage of the territory it controls. India’s current practice of deploying its troops once again reveals that India is the root cause of the confrontation along the Sino-Indian border in recent years.
(The author is a researcher at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University)