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SOURCE:  ThePrint

The Chinese are probably aiming to define the Line of Actual Control (LAC) according to their claim line of 1959, says China expert Yun Sun, adding that both India and China are looking at a “war of attrition” as opposed to a hot war.

Speaking to ThePrint in a video interview, Yun, senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said China has viewed the territorial dispute from the perspective of India’s ‘forward policy’, which led to the 1962 India-China War.

“There are different signals from Beijing. We can see that China is probably aiming for their Line of Actual Control back in 1959,” Yun said. “What happened between 1959 and 1962 according to Chinese perception was an Indian ‘forward policy’ that advanced towards the Chinese territory, which eventually led to the 1962 war. That’s a very Chinese-centric, Sino-centric perception. But that’s how China has viewed this territorial dispute in the historical perspective.”

According to her, if India and China put all their focus on clarifying the LAC then both sides will have to engage in intensive diplomatic negotiations that will have to involve historical evidence and legal documents.

“Political negotiations are unlikely to go anywhere,” she said. “They have not rendered a concrete result, which means the LAC can only be consolidated on the ground by the pulling and hauling, by the positioning of the military troops, so that the two militaries would develop a consensus as for where the other side is firmly stationed.”

LAC gradually emerging on the ground as LoC, Yun says
Yun, whose expertise lies in Chinese foreign policy, also said the “dual-track approach” taken by India and China by having diplomatic as well as military-level talks have not helped cool down the temperatures. She said both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping need to intervene.

“While dialogue is going on from both sides, it also needs to be noted that neither military has withdrawn. From the military point of view, they are more likely to watch the behaviour of the other side rather than listening to what the diplomats are saying,” Yun said.

“So unfortunately, this is evolving towards what we are seeing between India and Pakistan in terms of LoC (Line of Control) in Kashmir,” she said. “Because the two militaries have been so intensely deployed in that area, there is very little room for imagination, there is very little room for misunderstanding. So, unfortunately, maybe for the western sector of the disputed border, that is what it takes for LAC to emerge gradually on the ground.”

War of attrition
Yun, who analyses the policies of the Chinese government, also believes that the present standoff between the Indian and Chinese troops may not lead to a full-fledged hot war but will turn into a “war of attrition”.

“Most likely we are going to head into a situation where both militaries will want to continue their deployment in that area (Ladakh) despite the winter weather,” she said. “So instead of having a war immediately, I think what we are more likely to see is more of a war of attrition. It’s not necessarily an escalatory, military or a direct conflict but in a sense both sides will be there and they will be confronting each other.”

Yun added, “Hope that reason will prevail and both leaders and both governments will realise that fighting a hot war, or a cold war of attrition, in that area is not in anyone’s interest. So if either one thinks they are winning, they might be winning the battle and losing the war, losing the bigger strategic picture of the bilateral relations.”

Restoration of status quo ante
From Beijing’s perspective, Yun said, messages coming out from India’s Ministry of External Affairs as well as the Ministry of Defence have “some level of inconsistency”.

“The foreign ministry is committed to the withdrawal and de-escalation of the tensions but the military from India seems to be quite keen on restoration of status quo in the pre-April state,” she said. “I think that does raise the question as to what is the priority here? If returning to the status quo ante, the pre-April status quo ante, is India’s indisputable goal here, and what if China does not comply then are we going to head for a hot war or are we going to head for a prolonged period of confrontation between the two countries? So I think there is that issue.”

According to Yun, the insistence on restoration of status quo ante by the Indian side will lead the Chinese to question whether New Delhi is seeking “pre-April situation or pre-May situation, or we are talking about pre-2019 situation when Article 370 (of Indian Constitution) was revoked, or we are talking about pre-DBO road status quo ante”.

“If we go back to who did what first, that’s going to be an endless debate,” she said. “So in order to move forward to focus on who did what on what time, therefore who is responsible for the current tensions are unlikely to lead to the most constructive result.”

This, according to Yun, is also one of the factors that the new set of confidence-building measures (CBMs) may not be able to address.

During the meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow, both sides had adopted a five-point agenda.

One of the points in that five-point plan was to conclude new CBMs between both sides.