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The Pangong Tso Disengagement: A New Opportunity for India and China - April 10, 2021

Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh’s statement in the last parliament session with regard to ‘disengagement’ with China in the Pangong Tso area is commendable for its clarity. No wonder, unlike in the past, the ruling party and its supporters refrained from celebrating or even claiming a victory in a military stand-off vis-à-vis China. The Defence minister’s statement, rather, brought focus back on the precarious situation along the Indo-Sino Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector. The current disengagement at the Pangong Tso will certainly be proved significant if it leads to status quo ante of March 2020 throughout the Ladakh sector.

Equally important is the technical statements made by the MoD in its clarification. The MoD emphatically clarified that India has persistently maintained the right to patrol upto Finger 8, including in the current understanding with China. However, it is not clear whether China has accepted this Indian right and practice which was followed by the Indian patrolling troops prior to the current stand-off. The Defence Minister’s statement as well as the MoD’s clarification stopped short of saying that India would continue to patrol upto Finger 8. Perhaps, these are not the issues that one can make mention of in the official statements but these are matters of resiliently practicing them on the ground or in the waters as the case may be. In this regard, let the truth be derived from the practice in the near future. The Minister and his ministry, in their respective statements, cleared the air regarding the situation in other areas in the Ladakh sector. Both the statements not only acknowledged the outstanding problems at the Hot Springs, Gogra and Despang areas, but assured the country that they would be taken up with China within 48 hours of completion of disengagement at the Pangong Tso.

India must be cautious of deceptive Chinese tactics. Particularly; in the aftermath of Doklam, wherein India claimed victory without a fight, the Chinese silently went on building infrastructure on its side. By doing so, it has effectively changed the status quo on the line of control between China and Bhutan in the Doklam area, which is going to have long term implications. This time, with the Pangong Tso disengagement in plate, the government is not in a celebration mode that speaks a volume in itself. Pangong Tso disengagement certainly sets a tone to institute a composite dialogue framework between India and China as there is a lot of give and take that can happen on various issues. It also opens up the question whether border issue should be insulated from overall development of bilateral relations even if status quo with peace and tranquillity returns on the LAC in the near future. The crisis of 2020 in bilateral relations is also an opportunity to address all the issues together, which is perhaps the only way to bring in normalcy in relations with China without compromising Indian interests and priorities.

- Prof. Parimal Maya Sudhakar