Arming for Peace: The Fragility of ‘Trust’ in Sino-Indian Relations

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Is there anything that can be called new in the 5-point action plan for reducing tensions along the LAC? How can India and China take this peace momentum forward?

The very fact that the two sides have signed a joint action plan for the first time after the standoff is new.

So far, there had been several talks, but each side insisted on putting out their own version. The agreement harps on guidance from the past consensus between the leaders of the nations — clearly hinting the leaders want peace.

Interestingly, the LAC is not mentioned at all. The agreement instead is about maintaining peace in “border areas” rather than the LAC. The fact is that there is no agreed LAC in the disputed areas which the two sides defend. Past consensus has been about respecting each other’s differences. So border areas rather than a notional unagreed LAC makes more sense.

If past confidence building measures have not worked, what now can be the new confidence building measures for the future? Will there be joint patrolling in the future? Or will there be an agreement to use more technology rather than human patrols? Let us see.

Border intrusions are not new along the India-China border. But the trust — crucial for resolving these differences — has been shattered. This trust needs to be built not just between the senior political leadership, but down the chain to the boots on the ground.

How far true then is the comparison between the 5-point action plan and Panchsheel?

Panchsheel unfortunately preceded the 1962 Sino-Indian War. Now both sides hope things will move differently from here. After the belligerence post Indian retaliation, we see first signs of cautious optimism in the Chinese media. But they too raise the question of trust.

And how significant was the role of Russia in bringing about this rapprochement? After all, the agreement happened in Moscow.

Unlike Trump, who has always been on the front foot offering to mediate between India and Pakistan, and now India and China — Russia has never spoken about mediation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov openly declared that India and China need no help and assistance in solving their border disputes.

Looking at the larger geopolitical framing, Trump regards China as ‘Enemy No. 1’. Should there be conflict between China and the US — trouble in the Himalayas will force China to focus forces and equipment away from the Pacific. That fact will continue to influence US policy and to look at India as an ally in that light.

For Russia — on the other hand — while China serves as a useful balance to the US, India serves as an equally important balance to China. Russia understands that India’s move towards the US in recent years is an act of balancing China’s increasing assertiveness and aggression of power.

Post Covid, the biggest challenge ahead of India is to mend its economy. China too has the same challenge. Peace — not war — is the talk we are hearing from the leadership.

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