China has hardened its stance — experts decode the India-China joint statement on border tensions

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet informally in October 2019PIB/BCCL

  • India and China were locked in discussion for nearly 14 hours on Monday.
  • In a joint statement, both countries have agreed to stop sending more troops to the frontline.
  • However, experts assert that when it comes to reducing the existing number of troops or reverting to the original status quo — China is playing hardball.
India and China have agreed to stop sending more troops to the frontline after military commanders from India and China were locked in discussions for nearly 14 hours on Monday, September 21, during the sixth round of talks.

“The two sides had candid and in-depth exchanges of views on stabilizing the situation along the LAC in the India - China border areas,” said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement.

However, there was no consensus on reducing the number of soldiers that have already been deployed — or a return to the original status quo prior to May.

According to former Indian Army Colonel and expert on strategic affairs, Ajai Shukla, China has hardened its stance on the issue. It is refusing to withdraw any troops until the Indian Army vacates five to six tactically dominating heights it has occupied south of Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh.

“It is unclear whether the Indian side has also demanded a Chinese withdrawal from Depsang, where PLA troops have penetrated about 15 kilometres into India – the deepest point of intrusion,” wrote Shukla.

Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney explains that China's current strategy against India aims at stepping up “coercion and blackmail,” which includes deploying nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) on occupied territory.

Stance on returning to the original status quo still unclear
Another Indian Army veteran Sushant Singh affirms that the joint statement’s assertion that both sides will “refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground,” can be interpreted as acceptance of the new status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“The missing bit is even an indirect reference to the situation on the ground as of April 2020, and India's stated objective of restoration of status quo ante as of April 2020,” he wrote on Twitter.

Carnegie South Asia’s Ashley J Tellis told Hindustan Times that China’s aggressive border moves were motivated by India’s decision to abolish Section 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. “If there had been no changes in Indian politics, we would’ve had a continuation of past problems but nothing of this magnitude,” he said on the Tamasha podcast.

Beijing’s take on the military-level border talks
On home turf, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin told the press that India and China exchanged in-depth views on easing the current situation in the border areas — reiterating India’s stance on the issue.

"The two sides agreed to continue maintaining dialogue and consultation on this front," said Wang during a media briefing when asked to provide details on the latest round of military talks.

Monday’s negotiations were the first time that the Indian delegation had two Lieutenant Generals, two Major Generals and a Joint Secretary from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) — Joint Secretary Navin Srivastava.

The meeting was led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh of the 14 Corps from India and his Chinese counterpart from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Major General Lin Liu.

Here’s a quick look at what India and China did agree on during the sixth round of Corps Commander-level talks in Moldo:

  • Earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries
  • Strengthen communication on the ground
  • Avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments, stop sending more troops to the frontline
  • Refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground
  • Avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation
  • Hold the 7th round of Military Commander-Level Meeting as soon as possible
  • Take practical measures to properly solve problems on the ground
  • Jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area
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