THE escalating tension between Indian and Chinese armies along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) couldn’t be more ill-timed. While India is battling the Covid-19 pandemic on a war footing, China is busy picking up the pieces and tackling international criticism over its alleged mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. At this juncture where bilateral cooperation is of the essence to revitalise respective economies, the military build-up in Ladakh and north Sikkim has struck a discordant note. The informal summits between PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan (April 2018) and Mamallapuram (October 2019) had raised hopes of long-term peace and calm in the border areas despite differing perceptions of the 3,488-km-long LAC. The Wuhan bonhomie had taken place months after the 2017 Doklam stand-off that had almost brought the two nations to the brink of an armed conflict.
The latest confrontation has laid bare gaps in the implementation of confidence-building measures agreed upon by both sides, such as strengthening the mechanisms for sharing information and resolving disputes through dialogue. A major hindrance is the lingering trust deficit, which is attributed to some thorny issues: China’s continuing military and diplomatic support to Pakistan and the two neighbours’ contesting claims over Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.
The developments have given the US — the country worst hit by the virus — another reason to lambast China, with Alice Wells, a State Department officer, terming the border flare-up a ‘reminder that Chinese aggression is not always just rhetorical’. Though this is a welcome vindication of India’s stand, New Delhi must tread cautiously and remember that there are no free lunches in the world of diplomacy. There is no gainsaying that an early settlement of the boundary question would serve the interests of India and China as both are eyeing a bigger role in the post-pandemic world order. The Wuhan-Mamallapuram gains should not be frittered away.
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