14th Round : Endless Negotiations, ‘Insipid’ Line, Unsettled Border, Rising Hostilities
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Jan , 2022

It can be argued, when Henry McMahon drew an “insipid” line sitting in beautiful surroundings in Simla Office over one hundred years ago, he was only being dutiful in maximizing British control in Central Asia in the “Great Game” being played between England and Russia during the nineteenth century. Interestingly, both China and India were not signatories to the Simla Accord in 1914.

More interestingly, even McMahon could not have imagined that a century later, he will continue to be remembered as the man who inadvertently drew a line which not only divided India and Tibet but brought in the aggressor China into the game. It has resulted in the two giant Asian neighbours contesting each other’s claims over McMahon Line.

As was expected, the 14th round of talks between the militaries of India and China ended without a breakthrough. Interestingly, though no specific reasons given…

McMahon Misadventures

But Arunachal Pradesh is not the only “disputed line” McMahon created and left behind. The British officer is also held responsible for the roots of the unresolved Palestine-Israel conflict. The line he drew on a map separating Tibet and India as foreign secretary of the British government in India; and the promises of creating a new nation in the Ottoman regions where the Arabs were in majority as the British high commissioner in Egypt (1915-16) in his correspondence with the Sharif of Mecca Hussein bin Ali, both turned out to be his own “misadventures.” As later events proved, however, unfortunately for McMahon, both the Line and promises made to Sharif of Mecca were at variance with the London Office. While the Line did eventually found an afterlife, his promises to create an Arab nation were buried forever.

Two explanations are offered why the British took the view that McMahon’s Simla Accord was a “misstep with no consequences.” First, to the British, Tibet was under Chinese suzerainty and therefore Tibet was not considered capable of charting an independent foreign policy. Second, seven years prior to the Simla Accord, Britain had entered into an agreement with Russia in 1907 to deal with Iran, Afghanistan and Tibet – considered buffer lands between their respective empires. The British treated Simla Accord also as a violation of the terms of the Anglo-Russian Convention (1907). Likewise, it is equally intriguing why following “Simla misadventure,” Britain betrayed its own high commissioners’ successful efforts in rallying the support of West Asia’s Bedouin tribes in the fight against the Ottoman Empire which sided with the Germans during WWI? 

14th Military-level Talks

As was expected, the 14th round of talks between the militaries of India and China ended without a breakthrough. Interestingly, though no specific reasons given, the Indian media had been reporting in the run-up to the talks that “India was hopeful” of a breakthrough especially for disengagement at the PP 15 (Hot Springs) in eastern Ladakh. On the day the two countries were locked in 13-hours long talks, the English language national print media in India even cited, the Indian Army Chief General M M Naravane saying “India was hopeful of resolving issues related to disengagement at Patrolling Point 15 in the 14th round of talks.” In fact, on the same day, the Indian media was full of reports that according to the Indian security establishment, India insisted in the 14th round talks “on disengagements as soon as possible in all the remaining frictions points including PP 15 and resolution of issues in Depsang Bulge and Demchok.” 

It is pertinent to recall why the 9-hour long 13th round of talks had ended in failure three months ago…

However, despite the joint statement issued after “marathon” round of talks on last Wednesday claiming “two sides had a frank and in-depth exchange of views” and that the two sides agreed to hold the 15th round “at the earliest,” the fact remains that no breakthrough in the 14th round has been viewed in New Delhi’s media circles as “disappointment” if not an “outright failure.” “Although the January 12 talks lasted around 13 hours, the Indian side clearly failed to persuade PLA to disengage from Hot Springs near Kongka La and resolve patrolling rights issues in Depsang Bulge in Daulet Beg Oldi sector and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector,” is how a newspaper commented.

It is pertinent to recall why the 9-hour long 13th round of talks had ended in failure three months ago. The apparent failure was due to “the Indian side standing firm on disengagement from Hot Springs and not flared up tensions in the Depsang Plains and Demchok, termed ‘legacy issues’,” and the Chinese side blaming India of raising “unreasonable and unrealistic demands, adding difficulty to negotiations.” What is puzzling is, if one were to believe the Indian media reports, the focus of 13-hour long 14th round of military-level talks too was the same as that of the previous round and which the Chinese side had rejected, then what explains India being hopeful of achieving a breakthrough for disengagement at the Hot Springs area?

Experts in China knew beforehand January 12 talks will not be productive 

On the other hand, and contrary to the English language Global Times report, entitled “China, India to hold 14th commander-level talks, expect better results than previous round,” commentaries in a section of China’s Mandarin language media had indicated before the talks were held, “it will not yield the desired breakthrough.”As a Chinese language commentary noted: “The confrontation between the Chinese and Indian armies in the border areas remains unresolved, and the two sides continue to have great differences along the disputed border.”

…in the past few months, though there is no change in the ongoing standoff, there has been no escalation in tensions and no new clashes.

In a widely circulated Chinese commentary entitled Jintian, dui zhongyin hen guanjianor “Today, a crucial day for China and India,” on 12 January – the same day the 14th round of talks were scheduled – the question was asked: will this round of talks end up without a breakthrough too? Reacting to the optimism in New Delhi before the 14th round talks, the Chinese commentary observed: “many in India have placed high expectations on the outcome of this round of talks. The optimism is based on several reasons. First, in the past few months, though there is no change in the ongoing standoff, there has been no escalation in tensions and no new clashes. Second, there is a new element in this round of talks, i.e. the Indian negotiating team has a new leader, Lieutenant General Anindya Sengupta. Third, no early breakthrough would mean over 60,000 heavily armed Indian soldiers will be forced to spend second straight full winter months in eastern Ladakh. Fourth, to sustain huge amounts of logistics costs to maintain so many soldiers is a waste of money.”

Ongoing stalemate to continue, no end to disengagement, de-escalation in sight

Ruling out an early or quick resolution, Professor Qian Feng, Research Director at Beijing-based prestigious Tsinghua University’s National Institute of Strategic Studies said “it is indeed true the current standoff situation cannot be resolved overnight. It required the two sides to exercise restraint and patience, continue to strive hard to meet each other halfway through diplomatic and military talks, and gradually solve the issue by making the problem transform from difficult into easy.”

Acknowledging that the new round of talks are being held in a relatively improved political environment as compared with the previous round – by referring to events such as RIC foreign ministers meeting in last November, China and India seen sharing consensus at the COP26 Glasgow Climate Change Conference, and the fact that China-India bilateral trade for the first time ever crossed 100 billion US dollar threshold etc. –Professor Liu Zongyi, a well-known India hand who currently heads the China and South Asia Research Centre under the Shanghai Institute of International Studies was typically more forthright and direct in his views. According to Zongyi, if India is expecting a breakthrough from this round of talks, then “the position of the Indian side must show readjustment.” 

Professor Liu Zongyi, China is not going to negotiate on restoring the April 2020 status quo. Nor is Beijing too eager for an early 15th round of talks.

However, on the crucial issue of the restoration of the status quo of the Sino-Indian border to the Line of Actual Control in April 2020, Professor Liu Zongyi went a step further and dared the Indian side to show some degree of realism. “India’s insistence to restore the status quo is far too unreasonable. Demands that cannot be achieved through conflicts, does New Delhi fancy it can be met by talks,” professor Zongyi asked.

Finally, China watchers in New Delhi need not look into the Chinese crystal ball. Instead, it would serve them better to take a cue from Professor Liu Zongyi, that is, China is not going to negotiate on restoring the April 2020 status quo. Nor is Beijing too eager for an early 15th round of talks. Well, if one goes by the readers’ feedback to related reports – “Shut talks. India should arm itself to its teeth in the Eastern border with Tibet. India should seek return of Aksai Chin” in the Economic Times here and “It’s high time China repeat 1962 and wrest back South Tibet from India” in there – on the situation along the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Sadly, the public mood in both countries, without doubt, does not favour de-escalation of the India-China border standoff in Ladakh!

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Hemant Adlakha

is professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is also vice chairperson and an Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.

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One thought on “14th Round : Endless Negotiations, ‘Insipid’ Line, Unsettled Border, Rising Hostilities

  1. Why restraint? Make the border live ….with small arms fire….artillery duels…everything short of full scale war…just like our border with Pakistan…daily casualties….from both side…Let the Chinese feel the cost of salami slicing increased ….Then we can have fruitful out come from each discussions.

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