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India detains Chinese soldiers in Arunachal; Moldo talks for disengagement fail

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China faces another embarrassment after Indian forces detain 200 intruding PLA soldiers near Tawang briefly. Military level talks in Moldo for disengagement in Eastern Ladakh has also not been fruitful. The twin developments are expected to impact overall bilateral relations between the two Asian powers.


India-China relations are marred by twin developments that took place within a fortnight. First, there has been a fresh intrusion attempt in Arunachal Pradesh by the dragon and second, the 13th round of Commander-level talks held in Moldo (an outpost on the Chinese side of the LAC) for further disengagement in eastern Ladakh has hit a dead end. The situation is alarming as things are going in the wrong direction and may intensify in near future if the trust between the two countries, which is already at historical low, degrades further.

With regards to the intrusion of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector, the Indian forces are reported to have ‘detained’ about 200 soldiers of the Chinese army who crossed over from the Tibet side, remained in the Indian territory for quite a while and tried to damage some of the Indian properties. Sources say that they had attempted to damage unoccupied bunkers of Indian forces and a bridge nearby.

There are credible reports that the incident occurred about a week ago between the border pass of Bum La and Yangtse. This is near the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Sources in the establishment say that the issue was resolved at the local military commanders’ level before it could spiral up; there are already mechanisms in place to deal with and diffuse such situations. The PLA soldiers were released after some time. 

What is baffling is that Chinese intrusion has increased in the recent past in other sectors even when the Eastern Ladakh face off is not fully resolved and armies continue to be deployed heavily there. Last month, a similar intrusion occurred in Uttarakhand’s Barahoti sector wherein Chinese troops had reportedly carried out aggressive patrolling and spent considerable time in the Indian territory before they returned to their base. Sources say that even in Barahoti they were more than a hundred in numbers. Going back a little more, in 2016, more than 200 Chinese troops had transgressed at the same sector of Tawang near Yangtse.

Similarly, a new village built by China came into focus just across the Tawang sector adjacent to the LAC. Later it was discovered that the dragon has built a series of such villages fortified with infrastructure that can support dual use – civil and military. After this India has steamed up its own infrastructure projects critical for defending the borders.

In the present issue, the Government of India has said that Indian soldiers did not detain any PLA soldiers in Arunachal. The government also holds that the two sides carry out patrolling upto their lines of perception. Hence, at times, the two patrolling sides come face to face with each other and there are protocols created to diffuse such a situation and maintain peace and tranquility. Former Indian ambassador Kanwal Sibal lashed out at the government officials by saying, “The defence sources habitually downplay import of Chinese intrusions as being up to their LAC perception. Government must plug the gaps and control the narrative better.”

Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece The Global Times, which is no more than a laughing stock for the world community, has said that Indian media is promoting fake news regarding the detention of Chinese soldiers in Arunachal.

Moldo talks fail

Just as the information about the Arunachal intrusion became viral on the internet, the 13th round of military talks between India and China that was held on the Chinese side at Moldo failed to produce any resolution to the remaining issues in Eastern Ladakh.

After a marathon meeting of more than eight hours, the Indian army apprised that the Chinese side was not agreeable to them and ‘failed to provide forward-looking proposals.’ This is despite the fact that India made ‘constructive suggestions’ to the PLA. As a matter of fact the forces have disengaged only from a few areas. Only Pangang Tso and Gogra Post had witnessed disengagement and there remain several points where even the de-escalation has not happened.

Kanwal Sibal says that the talks failed so much that it degraded the atmosphere. “Instead of joint statements, separate ones are issued with no attempt to mask differences and maintain hopeful postures,” he said.

It is learnt that the Indian army pointed out that the situation along the LAC had been caused by ‘unilateral attempts’ by the PLA just in order to alter the status quo; this is also a violation of bilateral agreements. The Army asked the PLA to take steps to restore peace and tranquility along the LAC. The Indian delegation went to tell the Chinese that the resolution of the remaining issues would help progress in bilateral relations between the two countries. It’s something that the Foreign Minister of India, S Jaishankar has held in the recent past.

The only consolation is that the two sides have agreed to maintain future communications and stability on the ground.

In the previous round (12th round of talks), the Indian Army and the PLA had de-escalated and disengaged from the Gogra post. In the 13th round, the Indian side was looking for disengagement at Hot Springs. India also wants a quick solution to the Depsang Bulge and Demchok. Experts say that the failure of the talks is expected to have a spillover effect especially when the Chinese are breaching borders in the central and eastern Himalayas.

Army Chief concerned

Just before the 13th rounds were to happen, Army Chief MM Naravane had said that the presence of the Chinese army in such large numbers near by the LAC is a matter of concern. He held that there is fresh infrastructure built up by China to keep a large number of soldiers this winter too and India is keeping a close watch on their activities.

General Naravane apprised that India will continue the policy of mirror deployment and Indian troops are preparing to brace another harsh winter at such heights.

Since the face off has occurred, India too has developed rapid and mass-scale infrastructure in the region to house an additional 50,000-60,000 troops at the LAC. Most of them are in Eastern Ladakh. It’s learnt that the living conditions of soldiers will be far better than last year when the face of began.

As far as China is concerned, it’s engaged on multiple fronts with likewise aggression and belligerence – Taiwan, East China Sea, South China Sea and Ladakh.

It is believed that India’s decision to disallow any Chinese intrusion in its territory and ward off any forceful entry of PLA soldiers with force and friction has put China in a puzzle. The dragon is in quest to become the second pole against the United States of America. Geo-strategic experts say that to reach that position it has to become the undisputed power in Asia at first. Indian challenge in the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean has denied China to rise as an undisputed power in the continent.

Tawang – the epicenter of tussle 

The beautiful town of Tawang, a cultural hotspot, in Arunachal Pradesh has always been a point of friction between India and China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has complete control on Tibet which remains volatile though. Tawang is a great religious and spiritual centre of the Tibetan Buddhists. The historical significance attached to Tawang is borne from the fact that the sixth Dalai Lama, the highest religious leader of the Buddhists across the world, was born in Tawang. This is the second most important site for the Tibetans after Lhasa. China remains in constant fear that a future insurgency may rise from Tawang. 

The present Dalai Lama, after a failed attempt in Tibet to overthrow the Chinese conquest, had fled to India through Tawang only. China wants to capture Tawang and the entire Arunachal to ensure that no future movement can be built out of the place to challenge their occupationof Tibet. In the 1962 war, the Chinese had captured Tawang within the first few days but went back to their previous positions as Indian leadership decided to put in all possible strength to fight back.

Tawang also has strategic importance as it provides access to the Brahmaputra plains and the rest of India. There are established lines of communication from Tawang to Guwahati and extend to the Siliguri corridor. The place also has three passes that connect Tawang with the rest of Arunachal. Strategists also believe that Tawang is also a tool to rub into the eyes of the adversary across the border.

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