Sources said what the MEA described as a “frank and in-depth interaction” was marked by sharp exchanges before the two sides settled for an understanding which will require the PLA to reduce its presence, pull back and bring down the structures it had raised during the stand-off. Doval and Wang, who are special representatives for border talks, have known each other for some time and this helped them focus on the nub of the matter straightaway.
In the course of the conversation on Sunday, Doval bluntly put across New Delhi’s bottomline that for the de-escalation to happen, the PLA must move back from the area which Beijing had publicly claimed as its own in the aftermath of the violent confrontation between the two armies on June 15. India has said China violated the agreements intended to ensure peace on the borders.
This is the second time after the 73-day-long face-off at Doklam in 2017 that India had got China to relent — at least as things stand now — after negotiations in which India was represented by the NSA. Yet, the two situations are hardly comparable. Unlike Doklam, the latest conflict saw fatalities on both sides. This must have been particularly problematic for China, considering that it was the first time since 1979, when the Vietnamese got the better of it, that PLA had suffered casualties. Moreover, if the idea was to give India a hard rap on the wrist, it didn’t go to plan as China suffered casualties it is yet to admit in public. US sources put this at 35 dead. India lost 20 men, including commanding officer Col Santhosh Babu.
Second, unlike in 2017 where India tried to play down the physical skirmishes between the two sides with the government preferring to endure digs from opponents back home, the latest round saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighting the bravery and courage of Indian jawans and, in the process, rubbing in the PLA losses.
The statements could not have sounded bluster to the Chinese after the defiant completion of a bridge over the Galwan river, part of the Modi government’s project to ramp up border infrastructure.
Official sources underlined that the Chinese de-escalation was coming after India’s extension of the conflict to the realm of the economy by, most notably, banning Chinese apps and by making it clear that Huawei’s participation in 5G trials was all but off.
Modi refrained from naming China but his public assertions about the befitting reply from jawans in Galwan, the inevitability of the defeat of “expansionist” forces and display of the determination to engage China on the LAC might have narrowed options for the Communist leadership in Beijing, increasingly fond of projecting their aggression through wolf warrior diplomats, to settle for a resolution which stops short of an emphatic victory or a correction of a historical wrong done to China.
The timing of the latest Chinese provocation and the clash it sparked unfolded in full public glare with the US publicly declaring support for India against what it called a “pattern” of Chinese behaviour. Given China’s ever-worsening feud with the US, the Trump administration’s backing for India should have in itself been a ground for China to dig in.
The decision to lower the ante is an acknowledgement of the original miscalculation. Beijing overreached and, perhaps, also failed to anticipate the response of the Modi government at a time when it is having to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic which originated in China.
The Modi government is not going to flash the “Mission Accomplished ” sign yet because of China’s track record. Going by experience, China is more than likely to continue to spring surprises but it may not be happy with the way the current round has gone so far. It was supposed to be a knock out in favour of China.