China, India announce disengagement plan . . .
After ten months of military clashes between China and India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating their disputed territories, Beijing and Delhi reached an agreement last week to disengage from the Pangong Lake area in eastern Ladakh. The deal calls for each side to withdraw frontline troops in a “phased, coordinated, and verified manner” and to return to their pre-April 2020 positions in the contested area. Any structures built by both sides since April 2020 on the north and south banks of the lake must also be removed. Further, both sides have agreed on a temporary moratorium on military activities, including patrolling the disputed areas.
Too much to lose in a costly conflict . . .
The agreement was reached following a recent meeting in Moscow between Chinese and Indian foreign ministers and the ninth round of commander-level talks at the border. Ultimately, both China and India have too much to lose from a protracted conflict, not to mention an unintended escalation at the border. Elsewhere, India is preoccupied with stabilizing its shrinking economy due to COVID-19, while China needs to focus on the coming centenary of the Chinese Communist Party and the 2022 Olympic Games. And for both countries, stationing thousands of additional troops along the Himalayan border was costly, especially as both countries are battling the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Next steps . . .
While the recent disengagement is by no means the end of the standoff between China and India, it is a significant first step in what will likely be a long de-escalation process. It took two years to complete disengagement and restore the status quo after a similar confrontation in the mid-1990s. The current disengagement process at Pangong Lake could be lengthy and will be subject to various verification mechanisms. And once completed, both countries will likely shift their focus to other contested border areas, including the Galwan Valley, the Gogra Post, and the Ladakh region.