Amid the border tensions, India and China negotiated a much-needed action Plan to reduce tensions on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. With the help of Russia which played the common ground, both the countries have tried to find common ground and have been in talks for several rounds now under the action plan.
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What is the five-point action plan?
- The External Affairs Ministers of India and China on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s meet in Moscow agreed to this plan to guide the approach to the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The key points of the Action Plan are as follows
- It was decided that both sides should carry forward the Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirit on developing India-China relations. The main underlying theme would be not to allow differences to become disputes.
- Border troops should continue dialogue, disengage quickly, ease tensions by keeping proper distance.
- The two sides will abide by all the existing agreements and protocols on the boundary issues and not to allow tensions to escalate.
- The high-level dialogue will continue through special representatives’ mechanism (established in 2003) and meetings of the working mechanism for consultation and Coordination on border affairs (2012).
- The two sides will continue to work towards new confidence-building measures.
Why there was a need for such an arrangement?
- The genesis of the current stand-off was the aggression undertaken in the form of incursions by the people’s Liberation Army of China.
- Though China meant to give a strong message to India to kowtow its interests, the Indian Army’s swift deployment made it hard for the Chinese to make their point.
- The Bloody skirmish at Galwan took the escalation to the next level and both sides made rapid build-ups in the region.
- India’s counteraction at Chushul by way of the occupation of the Kailash Range at the end of August meant that escalation will not recede but it was below the threshold level. It also gave a message to China, which initially believed that India will have no option to accept the change in status quo, about India’s intentions about not altering the status quo.
- India’s stern resolve to oppose any such Chinese move made China to rethink its strategy as continuing tensions might affect them equally.
- The De-escalation had to start at some point as both the countries understand that any military action now will head to a full-blown war.
- The de-escalation process starts with gradual disengagement of troops alongside the dismantling of war-waging infrastructure, pulling back, and finally withdrawal to the designated locations.
- The de-escalation measures were necessary as The Indian PM and his Chinese Counterpart are set to meet at the G-20. This is the first time the two will speak since the stand-off began.
What is India’s stance since the 5-point action plan?
- India insists that the objective of the talks was to restore the status-quo though there is no Chinese reciprocation for the same.
- After the conclusion of the five-point action plan, the deployments have only increased as the Chinese have not shown any positive attitude towards status-quo restoration.
- India does not believe in the Chinese strategy of separating border conflicts from other issues as this is an old Chinese tactic of talk and fight simultaneously.
- Hence without any meaningful resolution of border conflict, there seems no positive movement in de-escalating bilateral tensions.
What is the significance of talks for China?
- The Chinese under attack by the rest of the world for its aggressive expansionism even when the world is grappling with the pandemic. It would be good optics for the Chinese to show that they are ready to solve the issue by dialogue.
- China’s agreeing to the plan is not necessarily stepping back from its position on the border issue.
- The “talk and fight simultaneously” strategy is an old Chinese tactic to wage a bullet-less war and take advantage of successive negotiations and strengthen their claim over the region, according to experts.
Are the Agreements unique developments?
- The five-point action plan reiterates the process of dialogue, disengagement, and easing of the situation.
All these were comprehensively dealt with by the previous agreements:
Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility Agreement (1993):
- This agreement set the basis for all follow-up agreements. It formalized the LAC concept though the perceptions about what LAC constitutes were different.
- The agreement barred the use of force to settle the boundary issue and restricted military exercises and air activity close to the LAC as a confidence-building measure.
Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) (1996):
The agreement called for reducing/limiting military forces to minimum levels and limiting the deployment of major armaments (tanks, artillery guns, and missiles) to mutually agreed levels.
Protocol on modalities for implementation of CBMs (2005):
- It added more confidence-building measures outlining the procedure to be adopted when soldiers of the two sides came to a face-to-face situation while patrolling areas where there was a differing perception of the LAC.
- It agreed to expand the mechanism of border meeting points and exchanges between the two militaries.
Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (2013)
- After the process of consultation and cooperation in 2012, both sides signed the agreement that contained provisions like maximum restraint, no use of military capabilities, no patrolling of border areas having no understanding of the LAC, information sharing about military exercises, etc.
But all the agreements have been in vain as China chooses to pick fights whenever it wants. The Doklam Standoff before the Galwan clash is a case in point.
Has the action plan resulted in a reduction in tensions in the last two months?
- There have been seven rounds of negotiations to reduce the tensions but sadly they have not any results so far on troop returning to their April locations.
- Despite many rounds of negotiations, the movement of troops and artillery by either side has only increased in the region.
- Indian forces, as a countermeasure, have occupied dominating heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso and the Chushul sub-sector.
- Recently, there has been a show of intention about the thinning of troops at certain friction points ahead of the G-20 meeting.
What should be the India Future strategy?
- According to defense experts, the agreement is not going to yield any results if both sides are not on the same page about de-escalation.
- The Five-point action plan is a good step in direction but India must not blindly trust China on border issues.
- At this point, without any positive signs from the Chinese, India must act to protect its territorial sovereignty.
- India must continue to proactively defend the status quo not only in Ladakh but across the complete length of LAC as the Chinese cannot be trusted.
- Because the position on the ground always decides the trajectory of talks on the negotiating table.
- Above all, India must insist on pre-April 2020 status quo and make it clear to the Chinese that the border issues cannot be delinked from bilateral relations.
- The G-20 summit is a solid occasion where the two leaders can hold talks and resolve the issues for the benefit of both parties. The Wuhan summit and the SCO platform has been successful in the past to resolve the issues even if temporarily.
India-China relations reflect an uneasy trajectory where there is a complex interdependence of trade despite issues and differences. Both the civilizational countries need to come over frictions of history and continue to find newer grounds for cooperation. There will be times of conflict like these due to different perceptions, the reset in ties will need better political understanding and management of border issues through dialogues at all levels-from border posts to high-tables of diplomacy.
Practice Question for Mains
Consecutive negotiations and agreements have failed to yield the desired results in India-China relations. Critically analyze in reference to the recent Five-Point Action Plan (250 words)