Why is China backing off now?

Key question: Why is China backing off now?

Representative image. Credit: iStockPhoto

Nine rounds of talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders to defuse tensions along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh seems to have begun bearing fruit at last. The two sides have reached agreement on a disengagement plan and have completed pulling back their soldiers to agreed positions at Pangong Tso. With disengagement done at Pangong Tso, the next round of talks, where disengagement from Gogra-Hot Springs is to be discussed, begins today. Recent developments are heartening for several reasons. For one, months of impasse along the LAC in Ladakh has been broken.

A beginning has been made to defuse tensions. The two sides have struck disengagement deals in the past as well, as in June at Galwan, only for them to come unstuck within hours. Unlike previous deals, the latest agreement is reported to be a written one and hence, more likely to hold. Both sides have delivered on their promises so far; satellite images show PLA soldiers withdrawing east of Finger 8 at Pangong Tso and Indian soldiers vacating most of the Kailash range.

They have also dismantled structures and camps erected since April last year. There are issues of concern though. Is India’s pullback from the Kailash range, which is of immense strategic value to the Chinese, premature? Shouldn’t India have held on to these peaks at least until China vacated Depsang? By giving up the Kailash range, India may have given up key leverage too early in the disengagement process.

However, apparently, both sides have agreed upon a disengagement plan for all friction points on the LAC in Eastern Ladakh and China is said to have already agreed to vacate Depsang in return for India pulling out of the Kailash range. If such an exchange is not already in place, India’s withdrawal from the Kailash range could yet prove to be a blunder. The first week since the agreement was reached has seen visible progress on the ground.

This bodes well for the future. However, these are early days. The agreement’s success will ultimately depend on its full implementation. India should therefore remain cautious and not lower its guard.

Parallel to the disengagement process, India must engage in brainstorming on the reasons behind China’s aggressive muscle-flexing at Ladakh and its sudden decision to back down. What strategic objectives did Beijing hope to achieve and was it successful? Quickly concluding and chest-thumping that by standing firm India scared away the PLA will do no good to our future security. India must have a clearer understanding of China’s strategic thinking to keep its territory secure from future Chinese intrusions.

 
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