China’s climbdown

It has taken China eight long months to admit that four of its soldiers were killed in the Galwan valley clash in eastern Ladakh. Shortly after the barbaric hand-to-hand combat in June 2020, India had reported 20 fatalities, including a commanding officer.  Dramatic footage released by Chinese state media purportedly shows deadly clashes between troops at the Indian border last year -- a rare insight into violence at the tense, remote frontier. China's defence ministry on Friday named four soldiers killed in the brawl, in the first confirmation of deaths by Beijing from an incident that also claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers.
Footage later released by state broadcaster CCTV appeared to show Indian troops wading through a river towards Chinese soldiers in the barren and ice-covered Karakoram Mountains, carrying sticks and shields reading "Police". The Chinese army’s claim that it lost only four soldiers may or may not be the whole truth, but the official acknowledgement suggests an inclination — again, unusual for the Dragon — to partly lift the veil of secrecy. So, is this a confidence-building measure aimed at mending ties with India? Considering China’s military and economic expansionism, it could well be a ploy to counter criticism from the international community. The growing clout of the Quad coalition, comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia, is certainly not music to China’s ears. Thursday’s teleconference among the foreign ministers of the member nations was held barely a month after the Biden administration took charge. Quad’s commitment to uphold a rules-based international order underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty is intended to make China see reason.
Late last month, a Chinese patrol tried to enter Sikkim’s territory and was forced back, official reports said, adding that while said sticks and stones were used, there were no gunshots. An army statement called it “a minor face-off at Naku La area of North Sikkim on 20 January 2021 and the same was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols.” The pass is at an altitude of over 14,000 feet. This is not the first time that China has tried entering Sikkim. In the same area last summer, at least 12 Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in stone-pelting and fisticuffs along the Line of Actual Control after a patrol party of China’s People’s Liberation Army personnel was stopped. Officers at the local level later intervened and resolved the stand-off.  Prior to that came the skirmish at Doklam.
Even as the disengagement is reported to have been completed in the Pangong Tso area, the 10th round of the Corps Commander-level talks is scheduled to be held today to take forward the pullback process in other areas of eastern Ladakh. India needs to keep asserting itself at the diplomatic and military levels to sustain the gains and be ready for any eventuality in case China’s climbdown proves to be deceptive.

- -Prabhakar Purandare

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