India-China Relations Outlook May Not Be Encouraging
Recent talks between India and China, the 19th round of military commander-level talks held mid-August and last week’s BRICS meeting at Johannesburg, do not indicate any breakthrough in the ongoing military confrontation in Ladakh.
Lt General Prakash Menon, Director of Strategic Studies Programme at Takshashila Institution, said talks over two days resulted in an anodyne statement – both sides agreed to resolve the remaining issues in an expeditious manner and maintain the momentum of dialogue and negotiations through military and diplomatic channels. India and China agreed to maintain the peace and tranquility on the ground in the border areas.
The talks were also followed by two separate, but simultaneous meetings between Major Generals who are commanding forces deployed in Depsang and Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) Junction. Menon believes these are legacy issues that get intensified and weakened over time. Located in the vicinity of the tri-junction of the India-China-Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Depsang plains are of strategic importance to India.
Menon said it provides China an approach to cut off India’s sole land route to the Siachen Glacier. “Practically, China would have to launch a massive offensive across glaciated terrain and the Karakoram Mountain Range and even if it does succeed, it would face challenges of logistically supporting its forces due to the glaciated terrain and it would entail the capture of a large chunk of the high-altitude mountains through which the Saser La Pass lies.”
The expert pointed out that launch of such offensives can at best form part of a threat imagination that survives in the abstract, bereft of linkages with China’s probable political objectives and its infantry capabilities. And for India, the challenges in Depsang are twofold. “One of the operational impacts of the 2020 Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh has been the PLA’s deployments now cast a darker shadow on the vulnerability of the DSDBO Road. It is a threat in being that would require a fairly large scale offensive by the ground forces.”
Menon says the threat pose all along the northern border is a psychological component of the likely politico-military moves in context of Chinese geographical competition with the United States. He highlighted that one of the outcomes of the negotiations conducted between military leaders is the creation of buffer zones, which is based on disengagement and increasing the distance between deployed forces and preventing face-offs of patrols.
However, only China has benefitted at buffer zones created in Gogra, Hot Springs and Northern Bank of the Pangong Tso. Menon believes the Chinese game along the Sino-Indian border is about increasing pressure points. This facilitates grabbing small chunks of un-held and disputed territory