Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe’s visit to India in late August is an occasion to consider the state of India-China military exchanges.
While military-to-military exchanges are important, there seems little to them in the India-China case beyond merely keeping up appearances. Gen. Wei’s visit was preceded by the late July visit of Gen. Liu Xiaowu, deputy commander of the Western Theater Command (WTC) with charge of the border with India and in mid-August, of the head of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, Lt Gen. Abhay Krishna.
It is a fact that New Delhi and Beijing have concluded some major bilateral agreements—here used to refer to treaties, statements and declarations—with implications for the boundary dispute since the end of the Cold War. Given that these agreements have been reached between two former belligerents that continue to have many reasons to be suspicious of each other, it must be surmised that they were concluded after tough negotiations and with great deliberation from both sides. While Indian foreign policy is often accused of lacking a grand strategy, these agreements suggest if not a vision for the direction of Sino-Indian relations, at least a desire to keep these stable and peaceful. This chapter is a brief examination of key agreements concluded between India and China in the post-Cold War era with implications for their boundary dispute, including the development and progression of military CBMs between the two countries.
If there is just one lesson to be drawn from the recent stand-off between China and India, it is that the two sides have a long way to go to in establishing mutual trust. While the Ladakh incident was eventually resolved by a combination of military-to-military meetings and diplomatic interactions, three aspects stand out.
One, the Chinese incursion was of a qualitatively different nature from previous such incidents. Hitherto, such ‘incursions’ meant soldiers marking their presence in their claim areas by frequent patrols, painting on rocks, littering and so on. The recent escalation and the intruders’ willingness to stay put for a considerable length of time, despite the difficulties of terrain and logistics, very likely marks the beginning of a new trend along the LAC. It also puts pressure on existing bilateral mechanisms of diplomatic and military contact and procedure. There are several formal mechanisms for inter-military and inter-government interactions, including clear stipulations laid out by treaty, about the nature of military presence in the border areas and the kind of responses that the two sides are to employ if they run into each other in disputed territory. This time, however, there was clearly a degree of unwillingness to compromise or to follow those formal mechanisms and obligations. Indeed, it is possible that this has been the case for some time now. Continue reading The Ladakh Stand-off: What it Says (or Doesn’t) about China’s India Policy and India’s China Policy→