New Delhi: India and China should step up dialogue and look for ways to “quickly” de-escalate the growing tensions along several areas of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), especially in the Ladakh region, Gautam Bambawale, former Indian envoy to China, Pakistan and Bhutan, said.
Bambawale said both sides need to speak to each other more, and key ministers on both sides should start having virtual dialogues once the pandemic stabilises and as India begins to relax the lockdown.
“Over the last few years, there has been building up of infrastructure not only on the Chinese side, but also on our side. We have been making roads in the last 10 years or longer, but it has caught momentum in the last few years. Now, much of our infrastructure is going all the way up to the border areas, close to the LAC. There are differing perceptions of the LAC between India and China, thus patrolling in these border areas, especially in the Ladakh region, has increased,” he said.
As a result, Bambawale added, the proximity of patrol parties on both sides has increased. This is why, the skirmishes along the LAC have increased from 2013 onwards — be it the Depsang Valley incident that year, the Chumar stand-off in 2014 and Doklam deadlock of 2017, he added.
‘Situation can get out of control’
In the latest stand-off between India and China at the Galwan River Valley and in other areas of the LAC, Bambawale said, the Chinese side has created hindrances to normal patrolling.
“The Chinese side is trying to prevent Indian patrol from going up to our perception of the LAC that is something that will lead to this kind of a face-off. And these are not patrols of 25 or 30, these are larger groups of soldiers, some even going up to 600,” he said.
“When you have a large number of troops from both sides in a close proximity type of a situation, it’s not a good thing as they could always get out of control. I hope two sides can quickly de-escalate such a situation,” added Bambawale, who speaks fluent Chinese and German.
Bambawale also believes the two summits between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan (2018) and Chennai (2019) have helped them understand each other better in terms of what is Xi’s vision for ‘Chinese Dream’ or what is Modi’s ‘New India’.
“As far as the military aspect is concerned, the two leaders have agreed that the two militaries must stay away from each other and not get into the kind of situations that are happening right now… What is required is the desires and wishes of the leadership should be relayed down to the ground troops… Both should move forward and delineate one particular line which both sides will try to respect,” he added.
Bambawale, meanwhile, lauded India’s move to back an international resolution seeking a probe into the origins of the coronavirus.
“The Covid-19 or the Wuhan virus, is one of the largest public health problems that has been seen by the world in over a century. Therefore, it is absolutely essential from a humanitarian point of view that the world at large should go into the origins and the way this virus has spread,” he added.
Indo-Pacific, Quad dialogue bother China
On the remarks made by the US last week on the India-China border tensions, the former envoy said the teaming up of New Delhi and Washington in some of the strategic initiatives such as the Indo-Pacific and Quadrilateral, or Quad, dialogue “bothers China”.
“US’ relations with China are at the worst juncture. The US’ relationship with India has improved tremendously. Indo-Pacific and the Quad definitely is something that bothers China but the concept of Indo-Pacific is not aimed at China or containing China. PM Modi has made it clear already,” Bambawale, who worked at the Indian embassy in Washington from 2004-07 during the India-US nuclear deal, said.
He, however, said New Delhi needs to ensure that India’s relationship with China “stays on track”.
“We need to step up our discussions with the Chinese too. At the same time, we need to promote our national interest too,” he added.
Last Wednesday, Alice G. Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant, Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, had said the recent India-China border face-offs were an indication of China’s “disturbing behaviour”.
‘Both India and China should do some groundwork’
Bambawale believes both sides need to carry out some groundwork as India begins to relax its Covid lockdown.
“There is a mechanism of diplomatic and military officials meeting at lower levels. I think that must meet immediately after the Covid crisis is over when people can meet. That can take place even after this standoff is resolved through videoconferencing… We should increase our interaction, including on the boundary question,” he said.