Over a month and a half has passed since the Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi met in Moscow on 10 September 2020 to discuss the border standoff between India and China. The meeting concluded with the establishment of a five-point agreement for easing the border situation, declared in this joint press statement. The discussions so far have been limited and undistinguished from former ones, and some characteristics appear to be redundant. Therefore, it is essential to determine the weight of the so-called Five-Point Agreement and analyse its presumed benefit in facilitating mutually agreed withdrawal from the LAC between India and China.
The first point of the agreement acknowledges that “both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus of the leaders” and in-explicitly calls for the two militaries to abide by them sternly. These agreement does not exude much confidence as the situation continues to remain tense at the LAC. This proposal contradicts the earlier sentiments during the mid-June India-China border clashes when the military was “given a free hand” to take action in case of escalations at the border. Despite the Five-Point agreement both sides remain cautious and have made their own troop withdrawal contingent on a precondition to be fulfilled by the other party – rendering the efforts useless. In case clash-situations like in June reoccur, they will render the diplomatic efforts of both countries fruitless again.
As per the second point in the agreement, the “current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side” and that the parties involved must continue to engage in dialogue and disengage as efficiently and early as possible. Several rounds of Corps Commander-level talks have taken place between India and China without any positive outcome. The sixth round, which is the latest of the talks, took place on the 22nd of September. It concluded by emphasizing the importance of accurate communication on the ground and the avoidance of misjudgement. The next round of talks occurred on 12 October without any consensus on measures for disengagement or de-escalation.
The third point states that “both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary” and maintain harmony by avoiding behaviours which may cause escalation. It is important to note that there are accusations against both parties of not abiding by agreements on numerous occasions. There has been a history of both countries lacking trust in each other and especially China having a headstrong approach towards negotiations, except this time, India is negotiating from an equally strong position and is unwilling to cede its position. It is hard to imagine a swift change in the border situation without steadfast and proactive steps and flexibility by both sides in negoatiations. If the status quo ante has to be restored – as India has demanded – both sides will have to show strategic malleability from here.
The fourth point notes that both sides have “agreed to continue to have dialogue and communication through the Special Representative mechanism on the India-China boundary question” which also furthers the operation of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC). The 19th meeting of the WMCC happened on the 30th of September and helped reinforce the five-point agreement. Since the WMCC meets more frequently compared to the Special Representatives of the state, it will play an exceptional part in asserting the terms of this agreement.
The fifth and last point of the plan stresses the need for establishing “new Confidence Building Measures (CBM)” for the maintenance of peace in border areas. New CBMs, however, would have to be in addition to pre-existing ones from the five border pacts that are already in place but have failed at achieving their sought-after outcome. Any new CBMs shall be relevant only if they are not violated at will. Besides, it is not simple to formulate new CBMs if no limitations are to be placed on either side’s powers.
The goal of the 10th September meeting in Moscow was to arrive at a consensus on the “objectives and principles of disengagement” for the tensions between both nations. It is safe to say that the agreement has proven to be a satisfactory outcome, especially in its initial goal of lessening tension so far, yet paints an imperfect picture of the overall implementation of the tenets of these agreements. In practice, the success of this agreement rests directly upon the capacity of Indian and Chinese troops to disengage promptly and sincerity in returning to their regular posts which stand almost 20 miles apart in some cases as opposed to an eyeball to eyeball confrontation in some other positions. There have also been numerous disagreements about how the disengagement process should begin, especially in comparison to the past when China has shown the non-sincere approach to respect agreed terms – severely impeding the de-escalation process. Sustaining the tenets of this agreement will also depend on precedents, immediate circumstances and everything in between and India and China will have to demonstrate unparalleled cooperation and trust to see the light of the day in this regard.
** The author is an intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo- Pacific Studies (KIIPS)**