China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Wednesday declined the intervention of a “third party” to resolve its current standoff with India as the two neighbours have “full-fledged border-related mechanisms” and communication channels to resolve their differences “through dialogue and negotiation”, when questioned on a phone call between PM Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump. Stating that China’s position on the border issue with India was “consistent and clear” and both the countries have “earnestly implemented the important consensus” reached between PM Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. Zhao was replying to a question about the phone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump during which the two leaders also discussed the border standoff between India and China.
Trump last week said he was “ready, willing and able to mediate” between the two countries. “We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute,” Trump said in a tweet. Both India and China have rejected Trump’s offer of mediation. Indian and Chinese troops are engaged in a standoff in several areas along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh over the hitherto unresolved territorial claims that often leads to recurring minor and major physical scuffles between troops, with this one being distinctly rare given the amount of mobilization of fighting units both have placed at their positions. While tactically and technically, China is said to be uncomfortable with Indian construction of a feeder road to the strategic Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road that will allow faster Indian mobilisation to the DBO air field which threatens Aksai Chin, diplomatically, it has been assessed to be the result of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment where India is said to be tacitly toeing the US line, China’s rival.
These involve: the abrogation of Article 370 (special status for Jammu & Kashmir) in August 2019 (which had seen a rare Chinese reaction where it opposed the action saying it also affected their own differences with India in Ladakh); the US diplomatic offensive against China over Coronavirus; criticism over Chinese handling of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong; the US criticizing China against its claims on Taiwan (where China has openly expressed retaking it through military force); resistance to China’s claims in the South China Sea; supporting Taiwan’s representation to the World Health Assembly (WHA) and a remote connection to the hasty withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. India last month assumed the chairmanship of the Executive Board of the WHO, with Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is set to take charge.
On Monday, top US Congressman Eliot L. Engel, who heads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said he is “extremely concerned” over the ongoing Chinese aggression along the LAC. “China is demonstrating once again that it is willing to bully its neighbours rather than resolve conflicts according to international law. Countries must all abide by the same set of rules so that we don’t live in a world where ‘might makes right’,” he said. Earlier last month, Alice G. Wells, the outgoing Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, had said whether it’s in the South China Sea or along the border with India, China continues to show its “disturbing behaviour” that “raises questions about how China seeks to use its growing power”.
On May 5, the Indian and the Chinese army personnel clashed with iron rods, sticks, and even resorted to stone-pelting in the Pangong Tso lake area in which soldiers on both sides sustained injuries. In a separate incident, nearly 150 Indian and Chinese military personnel were engaged in a face-off near Naku La Pass in the Sikkim sector on May 9.
The Chinese are peeved at a road construction work that India is carrying out from ‘Finger 2’ area of Pangong Lake, as well as a feeder road to the strategic Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road constructed last year. While the Shyok-DBO road is well within its territory, India is constructing feeder roads to the LAC, which would enable faster movement of troops and equipment.
While sources maintained that additional troops deployed by China in the Galwan Valley are well within their claim line, they are accompanied by heavy vehicles and logistics such as tents to house the soldiers and that it is 3 km within India’s claim line (or perception of the LAC. Also in the Galwan Valley region, the Chinese Claim Line and the LAC are the same). This is near Patrol Point 14, 15 and the Gogra Post, which is several kilometres South East of Galwan Valley as the crow flies, and is between the Valley and Pangong lake. This is largely known as the Hot Springs area, according to the sources.
Albeit within their territory, the Chinese have also moved heavy war-fighting equipment like artillery and armoured units and three Regiments amounting to at least 5,000 soldiers – with India resorting to reactive ‘mirror deployment’ – making the stand off rare because of the first-of-its-kind warlike mobilisation. Officials said military to military talks between local commanders are the leading effort, which has also been the established protocol for the past several years to resolve the recurring differences and scuffles between patrolling troops of both sides.