India and China must lose no time in finding a diplomatic solution to their border disputes

Economic impact of India-China conflict: Why there won't be just one loser  - The Week
Photo credit: shutter stock

As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said last week, diplomacy is the only way out of the crisis, and that can only happen “if both sides understand that it is in each of their best interests if the events of this summer are not repeated”. The problem, so far, has been a stark mismatch between China’s statements and the actions of its troops. Its consistent labelling of India as the aggressor this summer contradicts the reality that India has, since May, ceded about 1,000 square kilometres in Ladakh to Chinese control. If China’s diplomats have spoken repeatedly of the need to keep in mind “the big picture” of bilateral ties, the actions of its military on the ground have suggested an intent that is precisely the opposite, emphasising achieving tactical gains at the border over the broader strategic relationship. Until that calculus changes, India will have to be prepared to be tested along the border and to stand its ground over the long haul. India has signalled its intent to do so with the latest developments on August 29 in Chushul. If the statements following the Moscow meet did not exactly inspire confidence, both sides will have the chance to reassess the situation when Mr. Jaishankar will likely meet his counterpart, Wang Yi, at a meeting of SCO Foreign Ministers on September 10. Military talks can occasionally help to avert a flare-up, but the two neighbours need to work toward a diplomatic solution to ensure undisturbed peace and quiet along the border.

The statements issued by the two sides have underlined the sharp differences in how New Delhi and Beijing have continued to view the unprecedented developments along the border since May, when China deployed troops in large numbers and sought to unilaterally redraw the LAC in several areas. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh “categorically conveyed” India’s stand, emphasising that China’s actions “were in violation of the bilateral agreements”. He also expressed hope that both sides would be able to resolve the ongoing situation “peacefully through dialogue”. His Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, appeared to only reiterate the stand conveyed by China in recent statements that it had no blame to bear for this summer’s developments. He said “the responsibility lies entirely with the Indian side”, while China “kept maximum restraint to prevent potential escalation”. He called on India to “immediately withdraw its troops”. He did, also, add that both sides should “stay committed to resolving the issue through dialogue and consultation” and “make joint efforts to meet each other halfway”.


The government’s first priority now must be to end the current standoff, and then for its senior officials to enter serious talks on LAC demarcation. Given all the new infrastructure being built by India, it may also be necessary to negotiate new border management protocols that were last updated in 2013. The government must also investigate how a big build-up of Chinese soldiers was not acted upon earlier. Beyond this, it must make a full assessment of just what China’s final aims are: is the summer conflagration meant to deflect attention from Beijing’s current problems over the coronavirus pandemic, to deter India from its infrastructural push for roads and bridges to connect its northern frontiers all the way to the Karakoram pass, or to “remind” New Delhi of its geographical vulnerabilities as it contemplates a closer maritime relationship in the Indo-Pacific with the U.S.? In all three scenarios, the first steps for the government would be to publicly clarify the seriousness of the situation at the LAC, and to build consensus around its plans for a firm pushback and an assertion of its position along the disputed line.

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