On Monday, shots were reportedly fired along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the disputed border between China and India. Both sides have accused the other of opening fire. The last time shots were fired along the border between India and China was in 1975 when Indian troops were ambushed by the Chinese, killing four Indian soldiers. That was not the last time troops were killed on the border. Just under a month ago, in the Galwan Valley, a hand-to-hand combat broke out amongst the opposing sides. Troops armed with stones, fists, and nail-studded bamboo poles clashed on June 15th of this year, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers.
This conflict occurred amidst current efforts at peace negotiations between the two nations dating back to July. Last week in Moscow, defense ministers from China and India met on the sidelines of an international meeting. Both countries accused each other of inflammatory behavior. The foreign ministers met once more on Thursday following the conflict.
In a joint statement reported by the South China Morning Post, foreign ministers Subrahmanyam Jaishankar from India, and Wang Yi from China said “the current situation in the border area is not in the interests of both sides.” The two agreed that both sides “should abide by the existing border affairs agreements and regulations” in an effort to maintain peace.
Peace agreements began in 1993, notably with a 1996 agreement stating no side shall open fire within two kilometers of the LAC. The agreement includes a line prohibiting either side from engaging “in military activities that threaten the other side or undermine peace, tranquility and stability in the India-China border areas.”
But since the altercation in June, border protocols for peaceful disengagement began to show signs of breaking down. Al Jazeera claims India’s military has reportedly begun allowing troops to carry guns. The border has become a zone of tension, with each country sending thousands of troops to the Himalayas.
While there have been several peace talks since July, it has only been recently that there has come yet another agreement to disengage. Michael Kugelman, deputy director at the Wilson Center think-tank told BBC News that he believed war was not a feasible option. He believes that even though both were ready for a confrontation, war would be “catastrophic for both countries and the wider region.” Further, Kugelman expresses concern that the economic stakes were far too high.
Retired Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia of the Indian army also notes that coming harsh weather conditions might be part of the reason. The higher ridges of the Galwan Valley are known to produce harsh and inhospitable weather conditions during winter. Lieutenant General Bhatia suggests that “given a chance, both armies would want to avoid that.”
The new agreement between the countries is the first since 2013, according to The Indian Express. The statement put out this week is significant as this is the first joint statement between the two countries. The Indian Express spoke to retired Major General Prof. G. G. Dwivedi who retired in 2009, and reports “the de-escalation process starts with gradual disengagement of troops alongside the dismantling of war-waging infrastructure” followed by an eventual pulling back and withdrawal.
The two ministers from both countries agreed to a continuation of peace talks. The statement put out this week included an agreement “to continue to have dialogue and communication.” The statement also emphasized the importance of moving back any personnel or equipment that has crossed the LAC and to quickly disengage Frontier troops.
While the future is uncertain, it is looking optimistic. The continuation of peace talks between the two countries will hopefully be fruitful and result in the continued de-escalation of the border tensions. With continued negotiations and adherence to peace agreements, perhaps the region will find true peace and disengagement in the near future.
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