Even as talks between India and China ended inconclusively last Saturday over the stand-off in eastern Ladakh, China-watchers in India believe this will be a long-drawn out process. But there is a consensus that this is unlikely to precipitate a war.
The Indian side was led by 14 Corps commander Lt. General Harinder Singh and Major General Liu Lin, who is the South Xinjiang Military district commander, represented the Chinese. The expectation is that talks will continue because the meeting has been described as “positive”.
Kondapalli SriKanth, Professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi predicts that talks would go up to the Ministry of External Affairs level and then finally to the summit level between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The armies on both sides will have to move back by September because temperatures in the area, which is 14,000 ft above sea-level, plunge to Minus 55 degrees Celsius. Right now, the temperature in the area is around -13 degrees Celsius to -15 degrees Celsius.
Madhu Bhalla, editor of India Quarterly of the Indian Council of World Affairs, sees the military confrontation as a strong message from India that it is not uncomfortable in fortifying its positions along the LAC, a policy that was set in place by the Manmohan Singh government, and this has China worried. “We are sending a strong message,” through the activities of road construction.
She thinks that China cannot afford to “open a major front” against India at a time when it is under tremendous pressure from the United States and others, not only with regard to COVID-19 but also on issues of stealing of technology and its belligerent policy in South China Sea. She points out that even the Democrats in the United States agree with President Donald Trump’s assessment of China, and Trump is a man who is willing to act.
Alka Acharya, a Sinologist from JNU, finds the dialogue being elevated to the lieutenant-general level to be of significance and observes that the “two armies are digging their heels in”. She places the present confrontation as part of the complex picture of Indian-China border dispute, and the prolonged dialogue, which has gone through 22 rounds already at the level of special representatives.
Commodore Uday Bhaskar, director of Society for Security Studies, opines, “This is more serious than what most people think.”
AshoK Mehta, an ex-Army man and security analyst, is cautious in his assessment. He says that there are conflicting reports from the ground, and he cites Defence Minister Rajnath Singh saying “they (Chinese) have come in.” He says that the “actual condition is known only to the government.” He also is of the view that the Chinese have carried out a plan with prior planning and presented the India side with a fait accompli through “multiple intrusions of significant depth.”
Kondapalli Srikanth, says, “My hunch is there will be a climbdown.” He sets the issue in a larger context by pointing out that the US sets the agenda and the US-China relations have a bearing on the India-China equations. He is also of the view that India does not have vital interests in the region and that there is no violation of Indian sovereignty. And he is certain that talks will continue between India and China.