This photo has been used for illustrative purpose only.
The India-China face-off on the Himalayan heights has entered the fifth month. Several rounds of talks at military and diplomatic levels have not led to disengagement at any of the several points where soldiers of the two sides are facing each other.
On the contrary both sides have beefed up their position by bringing in more troops and equipment.
Reports emanating from official sources in the two countries indicate that a scramble is on to occupy high positions.
Last week India’s Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, met in Moscow.
They were in the Russian capital for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, of which both countries are members. Their meeting lasted more than two and a half hours. That suggests they discussed things at some length.
There was no statement after the meeting. However, the two sides reportedly agreed to refrain from taking any military action that may escalate tensions in eastern Ladakh, the main scene of the face-off.
This is good decision. But there is need for the two sides to go farther and restrain spokespersons who sometimes talk out of turn.
From time to time both countries ritualistically reaffirm their determination to defend every inch of its territory. It is necessary for a government to reassure the citizens that the country’s interests are safe in its hands.
However, it needs to be remembered that, while the border remains undefined and un-demarcated, where one’s territory ends and the other’s begins is a matter of claim and conjecture, not of fact.
China must demonstrate its sincerity by speeding up settlement of the border dispute, talks on which have been going on for years at the official level.
Even though the Defence Ministers’ meeting, held at China’s initiative, did not produce any tangible result, it was a positive development as it was the first political level meeting between the two sides since the face-off began.
China and India have been blaming each other for the troubles along the LAC. Instead of helping to create conditions conducive to peaceful resolution of the problem, the media on both sides have been aggravating the situation with propagandistic coverage.
On the Indian side, the worst offenders are private television channels where retired army officers masquerade as defence experts.
On the Chinese side, the Communist Party’s Chinese and English language tabloid Global Times is the main culprit. It keeps reminding India of the outcome of the 1962 war and revels in pointing out that China’s economy is now five times India’s.
Indians do look upon the 1962 war as one that they lost. But it was not a war that China fought and won. As Chinese soldiers, who had the advantage of altitude, poured down through the mountain passes an Indian general lost his elan. The soldiers retreated in confusion instead of pulling back in an orderly manner to a point where they could put up an effective defence.
As the invading force came down the hills it was losing the advantage of altitude and its supply lines were lengthening. Recognising that its position was becoming untenable, NJ Nanporia, Editor of the Times of India, confidently asserted that the Chinese would make a unilateral withdrawal.
He made the assertion, influenced also by China’s conduct in the Korean War. As US troops pushed back the invading Northern force, Mao Zedong had warned them against crossing the 38th parallel, which was the border between the two Koreas. The US ignored the warning.
China then sent its troops into North Korea. After pushing the US soldiers back to the 38th parallel, China announced unilateral withdrawal.
Today, China is the world’s second largest economy, and as such it is entitled to seek a bigger role in world affairs. Some missteps of the administration and the Covid outbreak have damaged India’s economy. But China will be making a grievous error if, based on a wrong reading of 1962, it imagines India is a pushover.
India has the will and the resources to overcome the current setback and rise and claim its rightful place. India and China must draw appropriate lessons from their history as well as that of the world.
Britain and France fought off and on in Europe and elsewhere for several centuries before they realised that the world was big enough for both. India and China must be able to arrive at the right conclusion without going through disastrous wars.
Durable solutions to tricky problems can emerge only through talks and accommodation of each other’s vital interests.