Analysts said that the disengagement process promises to be a lengthy affair
The two countries have successfully disengaged and pulled back troops from the Galwan Valley, where 24 soldiers were killed, and Pangong Tso, a cross-border lake, in the Ladakh region.
But the two countries have yet to resolve other “friction points”, where troops and weaponry remain, with the latest round of talks seeing a “detailed exchange of views” on disengagement at the Gogra, Hot Springs and Demchok areas but no breakthrough.
No joint statement was released after the 11th round of talks, which took place last Friday (April 9), over a month after the previous round of talks.
Talks are set to continue, with China’s People’s Liberation Army in a statement saying that India should “cherish the current positive trend of de-escalation and cooling in the border areas””.
The Indian defence ministry said that “the two sides agreed on the need to resolve the outstanding issues in an expeditious manner” and jointly maintain stability on the ground.
India and China have since the 90s successfully followed a policy of delinking border troubles from the rest of their relationship. This led to a robust economic relationship, with China becoming India’s biggest trading partner.
But this balance was disrupted by last year’s border trouble, the worst in four decades.
India banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, citing security reasons, and put investments from China through additional scrutiny.
Analysts said that the disengagement process promises to be a lengthy affair, with little hope of reducing the trust deficit at present or seeing some forward movement in ties.
“I think the trust deficit is as wide as it was last year. I don’t think it will go down without a dramatic shift. The temperature has come down and imminent conflict is gone. And there is a certain space that India and China have for diplomatic engagement,” said Professor Harsh Pant, director of studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
“The realistic understanding is that it (border resolution) is not going to happen any time soon. It would require a degree of patience. India is going into this negotiation with eyes open. There is a sense this is a challenge and that the broader relationship with China is also going to be a challenge.”
The border troubles with China also resulted in New Delhi throwing off any hesitancy in embracing the Quadrilateral Security Forum, which groups India, the US, Australia and Japan. India last year invited Australia to be part of the annual Malabar exercises with the US and Japan.
Some analysts believe the border talks need to be seen in a larger context. Professor Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said there could be a potential go-slow approach by China against the backdrop of the Quad leaders’ summit in March.
At the summit, the group agreed to cooperate in a range of areas, including vaccine manufacturing. China sees the Quad as a grouping that aims to keep it in check.
Prof Kondapalli said: “The geopolitical issues are linked as far as China is concerned. In the light of the Quad meeting, it appears the disengagement process is going to be slow.
“”If border talks continue like this, there won’t be much forward improvement in bilateral relations because the Indian side has categorically said there needs to be disengagement first.””