New Delhi underlines disconnect between what China’s diplomats say in Beijing and what its military commanders do along the LAC with India

The recent actions of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh was contrary to the consensus Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the communist country’s President Xi Jinping had reached during the two “informal summits” they held over the past two years, New Delhi has conveyed to Beijing.

As diplomats and military officials of the two sides are in talks to defuse tension along the disputed boundary between India and China on the northern bank of the Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh, New Delhi has stressed that Beijing must ensure that the Chinese PLA strictly adhere to the “strategic guidance” the leaders of the two nations had agreed to issue to their militaries in April 2018 and October 2019.

A source in New Delhi told the DH that the senior Indian Army officers regularly monitoring the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto border between the two nations – had noticed “a lack of interest” by the local commanders of the Chinese PLA to effectively implement on the ground the consensus arrived at the highest level.

“The actions by the overzealous PLA commanders along the LAC, not only in western sector (Ladakh), but also elsewhere (along the disputed boundary between India and China) have often not been in sync with the strategic guidance the leaders of the two nations issued to their militaries in 2018 and reaffirmed in 2019,” said the source, adding: “It is for the Chinese Government to find out why the PLA commanders were not adhering to the guidance that was issued from the top.”

He said that the soldiers of the Indian Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) were strictly going by the consensus reached at the level of the Prime Minister and the Chinese President, unlike their counterparts on the other side.

Modi and Xi had the first “informal summit” at Wuhan in central China on April 27 and 28 in 2018. It brought about a thaw in the bilateral relations, which had hit a new low over the 72-day-long face-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA on the Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August, 2017.

The Prime Minister and the Chinese President had issued “strategic guidance” to their respective militaries “to strengthen communication to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs”. They directed the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA “to earnestly implement various confidence-building measures agreed upon between the two sides, including the principle of mutual and equal security, and strengthen existing institutional arrangements and information sharing mechanisms to prevent incidents in border regions”.

The two leaders had the second “informal summit” at a seaside resort near Chennai on October 11 and 12 last year, when they reaffirmed the understanding reached in April 2018 and agreed that efforts would “continue to be made to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas”. They agreed that both sides “would continue to work on additional Confidence Building Measures in pursuit of this objective”.

What of late rattled the Chinese PLA was a road Indian Army had built a few months ago linking its military airbase at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) with one of its forward camps close to the Pangong Tso lake along with a bridge over a rivulet.

The new road in fact branched out from another 255-kilometre-long one from Darbuk and Shyok to the DBO, which was completed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) of India last year. The construction of the road and the bridge, as well as other such infrastructure closer to the LAC in eastern Ladakh, was perceived by the Chinese PLA as preparations by the Indian Army for a military move towards Aksai Chin – a territory which India claims as its own and accuses China of illegally occupying.

Tension on the north bank of the Pangong Tso lake escalated on May 5 when the Chinese PLA attacked Indian Army soldiers with sticks and stones in an area perceived in New Delhi to be well within the LAC’s Indian side. They also demolished on May 6 some makeshift structures built by Indian Army soldiers.

The Chinese PLA followed up by building a bunker in order to restrict the access to an area where Indian Army soldiers regularly patrolled. The PLA soldiers also blacktopped a road to the newly-constructed bunker. The PLA deployed at least 5000 soldiers in a large camp set up recently at Galwan Valley within the territory claimed by China – in order to support the smaller number of troops, who transgressed the LAC in several locations and entered into the areas claimed by India. The Indian Army too had to rush additional troops “in adequate numbers” in response to the deployment by the Chinese PLA. The two sides also moved heavy vehicles and weaponry closer to the scene of the build-ups.

Beijing and New Delhi echoed each other last week to reaffirm commitment to the “consensus” reached between the two leaders.

“We follow in real earnest the important consensus reached between leaders of the two sides (China and India),” Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Government, said in Beijing. “India is committed to the objective of maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas with China and our armed forces scrupulously follow the consensus reached by our leaders and the guidance provided,” Anurag Srivastava, the MEA spokesperson, said in New Delhi.

China’s conciliatory words however have not yet translated into any move by its military to defuse tension along its disputed boundary with India.

“There is undoubtedly a certain degree of disconnect between what China’s diplomats say in Beijing and what its military commanders do along its LAC with India,” said another source in New Delhi, adding: “Whether this disconnect is inadvertent or intentional is anyone’s guess”.