India and China are working to keep an uneasy truce in place, focusing on maintaining stability along their tense borders, but analysts warned of many uncertainties, given that China has previously sprung surprises and shifted goalposts.
Both countries are looking to schedule a new round of talks between senior military commanders that would focus on disengaging troops and de-escalating tensions that have been running high since May.
“As agreed in the last senior commanders’ meeting (on 21 September), the two sides are now working to schedule the next (7th) round of the meeting so that both sides can work towards early and complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) in accordance with the existing bilateral agreement and protocols, and fully restore peace and tranquillity,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava told reporters at a weekly press conference on Thursday.
He was referring to the talks in Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC, which ended last week with the two sides agreeing to have “more rounds of talks as issues (involved) are complex.”
Strengthening ground-level communications between the militaries to avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments, a stop to sending more troops to the frontline, and avoiding actions complicating the situation were some of the points of concurrence at the 21 September meeting.
The commander level talks were an outcome of a meeting on 10 September between the foreign ministers of India and China in Moscow. That paved the way for a temporary truce that is still holding, though the tens of thousands of soldiers are ranged against each other backed up by tanks, missiles and air support. At some points, the troops are less than a kilometre apart.
According to analysts, it was difficult to predict how the situation would unfold in the coming days.
“When the India-China tensions started in May, there were doubts that this was because of India building infrastructure in Ladakh,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“There was a buildup of troops. There were intrusions, we had a violent clash (on 15 June in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed) in Galwan valley. Then the focus changed to disengagement and de-escalation,” he said.
This week, China said it adhered to a 1959 claim line and did not recognize the LAC or the union territory of Ladakh.
However, in a speech on Wednesday to mark the 71st National Day of China, the Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong seemed to strike a conciliatory note, saying that the“China-India relations go far beyond the bilateral scope and have great significance to the region and the world at large.”
“Whenever the situation gets difficult, it is all the more important to ensure the stability of the overall relationship and preserve mutual trust,” Sun said, adding that “expanding convergence and cooperation is the key.”
Given all these conflicting signals, New Delhi needs to wait and see how the talks with Beijing move forward and if the outcomes are implemented on the ground, Kondapalli said.
Given the approaching winter, if a disengagement plan cannot be worked out soon, troops of both countries will be staying deployed on the mountains in Ladakh, he added.