By: Dipak Kurmi
The recent series of talks involving senior military commanders from India and China, aimed at resolving the standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, have not produced an immediate breakthrough. Nevertheless, both parties have jointly announced their commitment to swiftly address the outstanding matters. In a shared statement on Tuesday, following the conclusion of the 19th round of discussions between India and China’s Corps Commanders on August 13-14, held at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Indian side, it was affirmed that the two nations intend to find prompt solutions to the remaining concerns along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. The dialogue was described as positive, constructive, and comprehensive, focusing on resolving the lingering issues along the LAC’s Western Sector. Guided by their leadership, both sides engaged in candid and future-oriented discussions, as highlighted in a press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs.
The upcoming BRICS Summit, set to convene in Johannesburg, South Africa, is being perceived as a positive indicator following the recent developments between India and China. Despite the ongoing standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, China is exhibiting eagerness to reestablish regular bilateral relations with India. However, India remains steadfast in its position, asserting that the resolution of border issues is a fundamental prerequisite for normalized relations. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has reiterated this stance multiple times; underscoring that rectifying the border situation is a critical precursor to fostering normalcy.
Amid the latest round of discussions, China appears to be intensifying its efforts to decouple border deliberations from the broader bilateral relationship. Though there has been no official announcement from Beijing, a piece published in China’s state-backed media outlet, The Global Times appears to misinterpret the term “positive” from the joint statement. This article conveys the perspective that China and India are realizing the border issue does not define their entire relationship and that the border dispute should not impede the development of their ties. This perspective, potentially aimed at garnering global support for China’s stance, might be further echoed by the Chinese foreign ministry in the lead-up to the BRICS Summit. China seems to be signalling that the responsibility for restoring normalcy in relations lies with India.
The prevailing reality places the responsibility squarely on China’s shoulders. The absence of concrete progress in the recent dialogue stems from Beijing’s hesitance to mend the situation along the border. India must assert this message in a unequivocal manner. It’s encouraging that officials are disregarding the article as a vehicle for China’s self-serving perspectives. There are signs that India is prepared to counter such an agenda from China if it becomes official. New Delhi should persistently reiterate to China that any notion of a “normal relationship” remains out of reach until normalcy is reinstated along the LAC. In forthcoming discussions, China must take the step of publicly declaring the restoration of the status quo ante as of April 2020.
This has been India’s consistent stance, and it will continue to adhere to it in the future. The conflict at the border in 2020 led to a freeze in bilateral relations. While China characterizes the border tensions as a historical matter, it has advocated for segregating border discussions from the broader bilateral dialogue. However, India has firmly rejected this approach, asserting that the resolution of all LAC-related issues is a prerequisite for restoring normalcy in relations. China’s eagerness to reestablish normal ties must be understood in the context of its economic strategy, aiming to access Indian markets and reinstate comprehensive trade to bolster its own economy. (The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)