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International relations

India-China border standoff shows no sign of easing 1 year on

Stronger Quad relations seen as contributing to stalled bilateral talks

An Indian army convoy moves on a highway in the restive Ladakh region where India is engaged in a border standoff with China.   © AP

NEW DELHI/BEIJING -- The deadly standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries along the Himalayan border has lasted for one year to date with no progress anticipated in the near future.

Although the two sides agreed to a partial troop pullout earlier this year, negotiations have since stalled. The lack of movement on that front has been attributed to India signing onto a robust Quad relationship with Japan, the U.S. and Australia.

Indian and Chinese soldiers are still locked in standoffs in multiple locations along the disputed area, said Srikanth Kondapalli, an international studies professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

On May 5 of last year, the Indian military engaged in a skirmish with members of China's People's Liberation Army near Pangong Lake in India's northern Ladakh region. Over 100 service members were wounded. The next month, the two camps were involved in a clash that resulted in confirmed deaths on both sides.

The two armies deployed as many as 100,000 personnel in total at the border. India and China agreed in February to remove troops from Pangong, the site that saw the most military action.

About 3,000 km of the border between India and China is undefined, primarily in the Himalayas. Some landmarks, including a valley and a hot spring, serve as demarcation points. But the two militaries were unable to reach a resolution on a complete withdrawal during talks held last month.

The summit between Quad leaders in March may have affected those border discussions, said Kondapalli.

In that venue, the Quad agreed to a four-way partnership on vaccine production and distribution. This took place with China's economic and security threat in the back of the Quad members' minds.

"The responsibility [regarding the border issue] does not rest with China," a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters in early April. "It is hoped that India will meet with China halfway, earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, strictly abide by the agreements signed by the two sides, and take concrete actions to further ease the border situation."

The border clash is a major source of aggravation for China given its rivalry with the U.S. Beijing claims the disputed territory as its own and cannot easily compromise on its stance. But growing tensions could drive India deeper into the arms of the Quad.

China and India's bilateral chill is apparent from their leaders' actions as well. Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke over the phone with leaders from the U.S., Japan, Europe and Russia following the global spread of the coronavirus.

But he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi still have not spoken directly, though Xi sent Modi a message last month expressing his condolences over the surge in COVID-19 cases in India.

Modi traveled to China in 2018 and Xi to India in 2019 for informal summits during which the leaders agreed to shelve the border issue. However, bilateral dialogue has stalled after tensions at the border began to intensify in May 2020.

A hint of a potential thaw emerged in February when India and China agreed to set up a hotline between their foreign ministers. But the rift between the countries is once again widening.

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