In an interview with Newsweek on April 11, 2024, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, noting that relationship with China is important and significant, said there is need to urgently address the “prolonged situation on our borders” so that the abnormality in bilateral interactions can be put behind and hoped that peace and tranquility will be restored on the borders through positive and constructive bilateral engagement.

China’s state-run ‘China Daily’ called Modi’s remarks a ‘gesture of goodwill”, saying, “In a welcome move that may give a timely boost to the development of peaceful and stable China-India relations.” 

China’’s official spokesperson Mao Ning, told the media, “Sound and stable China-India relations serve the interests of both countries and are conducive to peace and development in the region and beyond.” We hope that India will work with China, approach the bilateral relations from a strategic height and long-term perspective, keep building trust and engage in dialogue and cooperation, and seek to handle differences appropriately to put the relationship on a sound and stable track.”

On the boundary question, Mao Ning reiterated China’s oft-repeated stand that it does not “represent the entirety of China-India relations, and it should be placed appropriately in bilateral relations and managed properly”. She said both countries maintain close communication through diplomatic and military channels on handling issues related to the border situation and have made positive progress.

China has been saying that the border question should be let separate from the bilateral relationship, implying it should be kept on the back burner.

The ground situation in Ladakh is as under:

  • Indian troops can’t patrol 26 out of 65 patrolling points (PPs), although these PPs were established years back “short” of the Line of Control (LAC) fearing the dragon.
  • PLA has made several intrusions in 2020, the major one 20-km deep in Depsang.
  • India vacated posts on Kailash Range, including one directly overlooking the PLA’s Moldo Garrison, in exchange for mutual disengagement along the North bank of Pangong Tso.
  • Along the North bank of Pangong Tso, India withdrew from Finger 3 and now has one solitary post between Finger 2 and Finger 3. PLA withdrew from its bunkers on the spur ‘above’ the Indian post at Finger 3, to Finger 10, where it has now deployed tanks. The metal road between Finger 3 and Finger 10 is intact. Indian troops can no longer patrol up to Finger 10.
  • In Eastern Ladakh, PLA is lodged West of China’s 1959 claim line which India never recognized. The subterfuge of LAC not demarcated is naïve because forward troops knew its alignment with relation to our PPs.
  • PLA doesn’t allow patrolling in multiple “buffer zones” (all in Indian Territory) having deployed UAVs to monitor activity.
  • 21 rounds of India-China Corps Commander-level talks and 29 meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) have been held so far and China has been signaling PLA will not move back anymore from its positions occupied in 2020, where it has consolidated.
  • India has lost control of over 4,000 sq km of territory in Eastern Ladakh since April-May 2020, which includes traditional grazing grounds albeit the government remains in denial.
  • The second Pashmina March by hapless Ladakhis was called off in April 2024 after the government threatened to impose Section 144 and cut off the internet for two months. In addition to protesting loss of traditional grazing grounds, Ladakhis demand the ruling party uphold their election promises of statehood for Ladakh and implementing the Sixth Schedule. After a 21-day climate fast by Sonam Wangchuk, many Buddhist monks are fasting since April 17.
  • Ladakhis are also upset with the Union Government allotting pasture land to industries and corporations without safeguards to locals. Some 150 sq km of pasture land has already been allotted and  locals fear it may increase three-fold. This is similar to allotting 6,000 hectares of land in Manipur to a corporation for palm plantation and forcing out the Kuki tribals.
  • Ladakhis also demand that the ruling party at the Centre execute their pre-election promise of granting statehood to Ladakh and implement the Sixth Schedule.

China is more than happy holding all the aces and reaping $100 billion profit annually through India-China bilateral trade, much more than before 2020; India is helping modernize the PLA while China has hiked its defence budget by 7.2 percent.

Indian media portrays that India is reducing dependence on China. However, India’s exports to China in 2023 were lower than that in 2019. But imports from China increased from $70.3 billion in 2019 to $101.75 billion in 2023. Also, China built and occupied dual-use military villages in Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan during the continuing India-China standoff.  

With the election fever gripping India, veteran and serving diplomats are penning nothing is amiss in Ladakh and government policies are the best. One veteran diplomat has been opining that statehood to Ladakh would lead to Ladakh Buddhists seeking closer ties with Tibet (read China). What can be more perverse when India is working on Buddhism as its strategic depth and energizing the Buddhist Circuit? But when China is ‘buying’ UN officials, where is the problem in purchasing officials in India?

One serving diplomat abroad pens praises for the ruling party candidate undercutting an opposition candidate contesting elections. Did anyone mention Moral Code of Conduct?  Can a serving diplomat bat for a candidate and run down an opposition candidate in the middle of a national election?

Our political hierarchy maintains “not even an inch of territory is  lost” in Eastern Ladakh because retracting from a stand taken in haste means loss of face. The External Affairs Minister, who acknowledges that “faith has an influence on policy”, joined the chorus recently.    

But the tone and tenor of the EAM has undergone a change from the earlier. He now says that “normalization can only be achieved through a return to the normal and traditional troop deployment”, without amplifying what is “normal and traditional troop deployment” and which bilateral India-China agreement or protocol says troops on both sides will be stationed in bases – not deployed on the LAC? If this is now the only bone of contention, isn’t this acknowledgement that India has accepted the new LAC in Eastern Ladakh drawn by the Chinese in 2020? After all, the “actual” in the LAC is what it is today.

The Defence Minister continues his buffoonery, offering help to Pakistan for combating terrorism, telling troops in Siachen Glacier, “Yahan garmi nahin lagti, bada anand rehta hoga” (you don’t feel hot here, it must be a pleasurable), and blaming the  previous government for planning religious census in Armed Forces. But, he would readily support reservations in Armed Forces, already in vogue in Sainik Schools. His performance as defence minister – when the then Army Chief telephoned him that PLA tanks are lined up for assault, his response was “Jo Uchit Samjho Karo’ (do as you deem fit), never calling for an emergency meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). This is merely one example of many

Amid our squabbling and lying politicians, China is developing infrastructure close to the Siachen Glacier at feverish pace. Once China occupies the Karakoram Pass (KK Pass), the next phase of operations will likely begin. Chinese Coast Guard ships regularly firing powerful jets of water at supply boats heading to a Philippines military outpost in the South China Sea may be a diversion.

Yes, we have acquired MIRV capability but when we couldn’t even stop Chinese incursions (read intrusions), how  our political hierarchy would cringe facing larger conflict; especially with  invincibility of the American air defence systems is shattered with the successful Iranian missile attack on Israel.

A veteran Vice Chief of Army Staff Chief cautions India needs to be careful; 1962 was different when China had limitations but things are different now. He further says, although we are aware (it seems) of the pitfalls ahead by totally aligning with the US; hope we resist short-term benefits in order to make ourselves stronger and acquire a deterrent capability.

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.

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  1. Nicely written,brought out the actual position on ground and highlighted the bluff of the Govt, they are hiding too many things from public which blindly believes what’s fed to them.


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