By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
June 15 marked the second anniversary of the Sino-Indian clash in Galwan, a remote region of Ladakh along the Sino-Indian border. Two years after the clash, which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian army personnel and at least four Chinese soldiers, tensions along the border remain real and the future course of bilateral relations is uncertain at best. . The two sides have continued to hold talks, both through diplomatic and military channels, but a resolution of the impasse and the disengagement of forces does not appear likely in the near future. There has been no breakthrough in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement for the disengagement of troops at several Line of Actual Control (LAC) points, including Patrol Point 15 near Kongka La, Depsang Bulge in the area of Daulet Beg Oldi and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demcok.
There have been 15 rounds of talks between the two armies at the corps commander level. These talks were partially successful in disengaging forces, but the fact that there are around 60,000 troops on either side of the border testifies to the lack of real progress over the past two years. The prevailing tension on the border is a symptom of the wider strategic competition between the two Asian neighbors.
Interestingly, China deemed it appropriate to host the BRICS National Security Advisors (NSA) meeting on the second anniversary of the Galwan conflict. Surprisingly, despite the anniversary, the Indian NSA attended the meeting without reservations, emphasizing counter-terrorism cooperation. India is unlikely to get much satisfaction from this as China has once again blocked a joint Indo-US proposal at the United Nations to list Pakistan-based terrorist Abdul Rehman Makki as a global terrorist. under ISIL (Daesh) of the United Nations Security Council and Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee.
Commenting on the BRICS NSA meeting, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson noted that the world is going through “profound changes in the international landscape intertwined with a pandemic not seen in a century”, leading to “a new phase of turbulence and of transformation,” and that China will work with the BRICS countries to “further consolidate political mutual trust, deepen political and security cooperation, uphold the security and development interests of the five countries, and contribute to world peace and stability. “. It is unclear whether India agrees with these sentiments, as New Delhi does not seem to be on the same page as Russia and China on the significant changes taking place in international affairs. Given these differences, it remains to be seen how the BRICS – which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – would deepen political and security cooperation. On the other hand, the BRICS has always been more of a chat room than a serious organization, and that could be normal diplomatic verbiage without much substance.
There was also a meeting on border security of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries, which included China, India, Russia, Pakistan and Central Asian countries (at exception of Turkmenistan). The SCO Meeting on Border Security was organized by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF), which hosted the 21st Expert Group Meeting and the Eighth Meeting of Heads of Border Authorities of Relevant Organs of SCO member countries in New Delhi.
Despite these signs of some diplomatic normalcy, there are also conflicting signs that India and China are drifting apart. Immediately after the clashes, India leaned towards the Quad – a grouping of the United States, Australia, Japan and India – with multiple summit meetings and other engagements. Until then, India was unwilling to call the Quad the Quad, instead using the cumbersome India-Australia-Japan-US grouping. Since then, India has at least been willing to use “Quad” in official statements. India has also expanded the Malabar naval exercises to include Australia, which New Delhi had resisted for many years due to concerns over Chinese reactions. Moreover, India has strengthened its relations not only with the Quad countries but also with European powers like France.
However, it should also be noted that, although still a member of the Quad initiative, India seems to play down its security aspect, focusing on other elements of the Quad cooperation such as vaccine distribution, critical technologies and emerging and climate change. Indeed, the name of the group itself appears to have changed from Quadrilateral Security Dialogue to simply Quad. It’s unclear if this un-securing of the Quad is due to India’s discomfort, but given that the other three members are security partners, it would be a reasonable guess. This de-security, as other analysts have pointed out, is unfortunate and potentially problematic.
Similarly, China also appears to be closing in on Russia, creating a partnership of autocracies, to target the United States and its partners, such as India. In February, during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing, Russia and China signed a 99-paragraph joint statement that reflected their common position and shared vision on a number of regional and global issues. The joint statement says their partnership “has no boundaries” and that “there are no forbidden areas of cooperation.” The meeting between Xi Jinping and Putin sent the message that there can be no major disagreement between the two in the immediate future. On the Ukraine conflict, although China initially took a more neutral stance, it now appears to have moved somewhat closer to Russia, with Xinhua reporting that “China is willing, together with Russia, to continue to support each other on questions concerning fundamental interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security.
For the past two years, India has insisted that there will be no normalization of relations with China unless the current border issues are resolved. China instead suggested that the two sides set aside the border issue and move forward with other aspects of their relationship. Although troops remain on the border, India appears to be slowly moving towards de facto normalization with increased multilateral diplomatic exchanges involving China. That probably counts as a small win for China.
This comment originally appeared in The Diplomat.