A long battle
The outcomes of the 14th India-China Corps Commander level talks and Army Chief's address ahead of the Army Day indicate that resolution of border dispute between the two countries is still a long battle. The talks, held at Chushul-Moldo meeting point, were aimed at facilitating disengagement along the Hot Springs area — which is the last of the friction points that came after the 2020 standoff between Indian and Chinese forces. During the first round of engagement last year, China had withdrawn its forces from the Pangong Tso friction point. Further, during the second round of disengagement in August 2021, Gogra post was also cleared off. The talks hold relevance as it has come three months after the 13th Corps Commander level talks which ended on a discordant note. India made several suggestions at that point of time which the Chinese side termed as 'unrealistic'. India, at the same time, blamed the Chinese officials for not coming out with "forward-looking proposals". Ever since, the geopolitical winds have been adverse between the two countries for one reason or the other. As 2021 was drawing to a close, China came with a new border law which came into effect from January 1, 2022. It also renamed the names of 15 places in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh — which China recognises as South Tibet. Apart from this, Chinese media is frequently seen to be spreading propaganda against the Indian military by posting and telecasting videos of Chinese troops. The crucial question here is how seriously these abrupt activities need to be taken. Going by the Army Chief's words, the new borders laws of China are "unlikely to have any military ramifications and if any the Army is adequately prepared to handle it". Earlier, the renaming of certain places in Arunachal Pradesh was also dismissed by the Ministry of External Affairs as not being a very serious issue. It was said that such attempts were made in the past as well. It must be noted that the renamed places in Arunachal Pradesh are not limited to certain pockets but span across the length and breadth of the state. Though it may not 'alter' the situation on ground, such an assertion was a big question mark on the high-held principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty of India. Also, in the diplomatic arena, no decisions or actions are without targets; this becomes particularly true for an ambitious country like China. In words or in action, India should not fail to give a balanced but befitting reply to Chinese 'symbolic' gestures. The perception of power matters in geopolitics and any country should show the same, even with the limited capacity it holds. Reassuringly, the Army Chief's address projects a confident posture of Indian troops along the conflicting parts of the border. Even more resounding is his resolve to fight a longer and rational battle. As he rightly pointed out, each Commander Corps-level talk should not be expected to yield tangible outcomes. The conflict resolution is indeed a process where the engaged sides "understand each other's viewpoints and perceptions, and differences go down with each meeting". It is unfortunate that a large number of Indian soldiers are forced to be stationed in harsh winter conditions amid a hostile environment. Still, even as the threat looms large along the Indo-China borders, one should be patient and maintain the trust in the Indian Army. Notably, security apparatus along the India-China border has come a long way after the standoff from an Indian perspective. The standoff served as an opportunity for India to build its capacity along the hostile borders. Given the bitter experiences we have with the Chinese military and the rising ambitions of China, such a capacity-building exercise was due. While the ongoing border tensions between the two countries can be hoped to be resolved in the coming future, India should hereon stress on maintaining and building further on its deployments along the borders with China. A solid long-term response mechanism could be the best answer for China's unpredictability. Only a steadfast response from India can absorb the shocks of jerky actions by China and smoothen the geopolitical scenario in South Asia. Balance of power is a must.