Ladakh stand-off: Foreign minister Wang Yi’s narrative about the Ladakh standoff at the border appeared to be at variance with the line that the PLA, and the communist party’s propaganda arms are projecting

When Chinese foreign minister Huang Hua met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on June 29, 1981, the two agreed that unless the boundary question is settled, it would be difficult to maintain friendship and goodwill between the two neighbours.

More than 39 years later, the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese foreign ministry appear to be on different pages. The PLA is hard at work in its single-minded effort to reach to the Green Line defined by a 1959 map by then Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai while the foreign ministry is talking about building bilateral economic ties, which over the years, did strongly tilt towards Beijing.

Much as State Councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi tried to gloss over a near war-like situation in Ladakh during his two-hour-long meeting with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, the fact is that the 1981 parallel track policy of working to build on harmonious ties even as the two countries sort out the boundary issue has not paid any dividends to India.

Instead, India has lost territory since then, letting 65 patrolling points defined by the China Study Group in 1976 turn into the de facto Line of Control (LAC) in Ladakh. The patrolling points are well within the Indian perception of the LAC but the movement of the Indian forces to these points has been curtailed by the presence of Chinese troops, face-offs with PLA patrolling parties and on occasions, the harsh weather and mountainous terrain.

As Wang and Jaishankar arrived at a five-point consensus in Moscow to first disengage, and then de-escalate in Ladakh, the Communist Party of China mouthpiece Global Times continued to play up its war-mongering editorial.

“If India wants peace, China and India should uphold the LAC of November 7, 1959. If India wants war, China will oblige,” the tabloid, considered an extended arm of the Chinese government, says. It claims that India does not want to implement the 1959 LAC as it is holding a grudge for its failure in 1962 war.

It is this 1962 mindset that pervades the regime of Xi Jinping. President Xi, who evidently sees himself as a true successor to Mao Zedong, decided to target India in 1962 by creating an impression that India was out to occupy Tibet.

The aggressive line projected by the party’s mouthpiece is totally at odds with what State Councillor Wang Yi’s stand at his meeting with Jaishankar where the Chinese side did not appear to acknowledge the role that the PLA had played to spike tensions. As one diplomat put it, it was as if the build-up and the friction in Ladakh was an act of God.

Given the Chinese expansionist plans to make unilateral cartographic changes in Ladakh, the disengagement process will not be easy as the PLA wants to reach the 1959 Green Line and push Indian Army troops beyond the self-designated line. This is completely in violation of the 1993 Peace and Tranquillity Accord, which talks about mutual and equal security on the border for both sides.

Under the circumstances, India will have to wait for PLA Commander-in-Chief and President Xi Jinping to give instructions to his western theatre command troops to go back to barracks if Beijing is seriously interested in rolling back the aggression. While the Chinese political mindset has not changed since 1962, the Indian mindset changed in 2014. Beijing must take this into account before making the next move.