India-China border talks: Round and round China’s mulberry tree?

As far as China is concerned, the so-called buffer zones are now a permanent arrangement and it knows India can do precious little about it. That is why China has been saying keep the border issue separate and get on with the bilateral relations.

Representational Photo

The diplomatic-level 28th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was held on November 30, 2023. That there would be no breakthrough was a foregone conclusion. The usual charade that the disengagement process remains incomplete was reiterated, when China has repeatedly conveyed in no uncertain terms its troops will not pull back any more.

The stereotype routine statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) included: open, constructive and in-depth discussion to resolve remaining issues; India pressed China for early completion of disengagement; both sides agreed to maintain peace and tranquility along the border, avoid untoward incident, continue dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and hold the next round of the Senior Commanders' Meeting at the earliest.

China stopped issuing a statement after such meetings long back and the above statement by the MEA has become standard issue. India and China held the 20th round of Corps Commander-level meeting in Ladakh on October 9-10, 2023; without any breakthrough and the official statement saying “views were exchanged in a frank, open and constructive manner for resolution of pending border issues.”

India maintains no territory lost 

The continuing meetings with China have obviously been reduced to Namaste-Ni How Ma and exchange of pleasantries over refreshments or a meal. The official Indian line is that no territory has been lost, only buffer zones exist which is a temporary arrangement. The Indian government head at Leh says locals have not lost any traditional grazing grounds – where do they take their cattle when their traditional grazing grounds are in buffer zones (all in Indian territory) where they are not allowed to go?

The gentleman also insists no territory is lost, only buffer zones are there. He is naturally loathe to admit the PLA presence at Y-Junction 20-km inside Depsang, leave aside the fact that PLA troops crossed west of China’s 1959 claim line (which India never recognized) in June 2020.

As for the multiple buffer zones, the PLA is regularly monitoring any movement and patrolling by Indian troops inside India-claimed territory. A security official attached to the India’s Home Ministry told media, “The deployment of UAVs over the buffer zones by the Chinese army is a matter of great concern. This is clear indication that they (the Chinese) don’t want to retreat any further and want to hold on to the (India-claimed) territory they have occupied since May 2020” (,establishment%20have%20told%20The%20Telegraph.)

Concurrently, an Indian Ministry of Defence official has said, “Satellite imagery too indicates that the Chinese are using their fleet of drones along the Line of Actual Control, besides undertaking massive infrastructure expansion and the construction of habitats for its troops”, though insisting that buffer zones were  a temporary arrangement. He, however, added that the government hasn’t clarified how long the arrangement would continue.

Buffer zones a permanent arrangement? 

As far as China is concerned, the so-called buffer zones are now a permanent arrangement and it knows India can do precious little about it. That is why China has been saying keep the border issue separate and get on with the bilateral relations. But MEA is loathe to admit the status quo in Ladakh because that would reveal not only that all the buffer zones are inside Indian territory, but also that we have lost control of over 4,000 sq km of territory.

If our policy makers have any guts why can’t an ultimatum be given to China that before the “complete disengagement”              (an euphemism coined by our diplomats), we want an agreement to patrol the buffer zones by X date, beyond which our troops will commence patrolling areas as before June 2020. Now the question is does our policy maker and political hierarchy have the will to tell this to China in no uncertain terms and follow it up.

Or, are we scared to do so and hide behind the flowery diplomatic language of maintaining tranquility in the border areas and avoid any untoward incident? China is more than happy taking us round and round the mulberry tree and making more money through bilateral trade than before its 2020 invasion.

Also, Beijing must be thoroughly amused that despite China calling India the aggressor and blaming us for the Galwan clash, we are entertaining them with Garba dance in Guangzhou (

Home Minister Amit Shah had once banged the table in Parliament and claimed Aksai Chin, which perhaps was one reason for the Chinese invading eastern Ladakh in 2020 - to guard the approaches to Aksai Chin. China has now presented us with the status quo in Ladakh as fait accompli. What is our next step?

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal.)

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