Looking ahead to tomorrow's border talks, and Wuhan one year on

Welcome to today's issue of The India China Newsletter.

In this issue, I'll be looking ahead to tomorrow's border talks, with the 11th round taking place after a longer-than-expected pause in the on-going negotiations, and at what is at stake, both for the disengagement and de-escalation process, and for the broader relationship.

Snehesh Philip at The Print has an excellent preview to the next round, and of the pending issues. He writes:

Following the 16-hour talks [at the last round on February 20], top sources had told ThePrint earlier, the two sides agreed to broader parameters for further disengagement in Ladakh. The teams were supposed to meet again shortly after discussing the developments with their respective higher authorities.

In India, the China Study Group, which advises the government on the eastern border, met and discussed the outcome of the talks and further directions were given.

Since last year, India and China have completed disengagement at Galwan Valley, where a clash left 20 Indian soldiers dead in June 2020, and Pangong Tso, the latter executed earlier this year.

While India and China agreed to pull back troops from the southern banks, there were many in the defence and security establishment who felt that India should not give away its bargaining chip — Kailash Range — which it occupied last August in a late-night operation that caught the Chinese by surprise.

Among the areas where the standoff continues, the two sides had agreed to de-escalation and disengagement from Gogra and Hot Springs in July last year but this was never implemented in full.

There are also legacy issues in Depsang Plains and Demchok, where the tensions date back much before April 2020.

Ajay Banerjee writes in The Tribune:

Starting February 10, troops of either side had pulled back from along the banks of Pangong Tso, a 135-km glacial lake. The present position of troops is not face-to-face, but they are within the striking range from where rapid redeployment is possible. After the disengagement, the process stalled.

The next two steps — de-escalation and de-induction, which means pulling back troops and war equipment to the pre-April 2020 home bases — have not yet begun. These two steps will be expectedly discussed at the meeting. Also, matters of disengagement at Depsang, Gogra or Hot Springs are slated to come up in the upcoming talks, which will be the 11th round of military commander-level talks since June 2020.

The commanders of the two sides had last met on February 20 after completing the first phase of the pullback from the LAC. Snowmelt has commenced in eastern Ladakh and within the next three-four weeks, the frozen rivers will spring to life. All gaps in the mountains will be accessible to tanks, artillery and rocket carrying vehicles.

COMMENT: That the last round of talks was held as long ago as February 20 is a cause for concern. There was lots of optimism after the initial disengagement at Pangong Lake which was widely seen as the hardest nut to crack, and agreement then that other issues would be taken up 48 hours after withdrawal there was completed.

The other spots are not as alarming as the situation was especially south of Pangong Lake, which is one obvious reason why there is no great hurry, but given that India has made clear a number of times that there will be no normalcy in the relationship until there is full disengagement and then de-induction, the speed of how things are moving now is, at least, a useful barometer for Delhi in terms of how keen China really is for normalcy.

As an aside, I was part of an interesting India-China track two today, which I'll be writing about soon. There certainly seems to be some keenness among some in Beijing to re-engage India and some are forthright enough to say the US is their big preoccupation and they can't afford others at the moment. Well, the PLA in Ladakh doesn't seem to think that way, at least for the moment...

Qian Feng of Tsinghua University has an op-ed on India in Global Times Chinese. Here's a selected portion (the usual drill: used Google Translate and cleaned it up here and there and condensed it; it's true to the meaning of the op-ed which it conveys faithfully but please don't regard this as an authoritative and full translation):

Facing the new round of enthusiasm and wooing from the West, New Delhi naturally accepted it. For a long time, India has been dissatisfied that its influence is limited to a corner of South Asia. It is eager to win a larger international stage and reproduce the glory of a big power. The accumulation of comprehensive strength in the past 20 years has made this desire even stronger. Through the recent intensive engagement with the West and especially through the Quad, India has gained more geographical and economic benefits, as well as its recognition and endorsement of its status as a “great power”. In India's view, the strategic competition between China and the United States has given the United States and other Western countries more motivation to give them substantial support in the fields of diplomacy, military affairs, economy, trade, and science and technology, and hedge against the geopolitical pressure brought about by China's rise. The implications are self-evident for China-India relations, which are still sluggish due to border confrontations…

China and India are neighbors that cannot be moved away. The two sides have long had an important consensus that China and India are partners rather than rivals, opportunities rather than threats. The two countries have common attributes and overlapping interests of emerging countries such as the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The current Sino-Indian relations are at a low point. Due to the dual impact of the political environment and the coronavirus pandemic, the two sides relations, from official to private, from economic and trade cooperation to cultural exchanges, are severely frustrated and hindered. There is an urgent need to learn lessons, restore mutual trust… India needs to continue to resolve historical and practical contradictions with China through bilateral dialogues, instead of playing "balancer" , or even choosing sides to become an anti-China frontline country.

It's been one year since Wuhan emerged from its lockdown -- a really stringent lockdown, no one in or out, which began at 10 am on January 23, 2020 and lifted early April, an unimaginably difficult time for the city. I was in Beijing that morning, where the news of the lockdown landed with a thud. Hard to remember now there was a time when lockdowns weren't part of our daily vocabulary…

One among many striking ‘one year later’ photos, there are more here:

China, of course, is now returning to pre-pandemic levels in many economic indicators, including tourism. The WSJ reports:

Swaths of China’s economy, in particular manufacturing and exports, long ago regained their pre-virus levels. But consumer spending, held back by travel restrictions and caution over the possibility of a resurgence, has been a persistent laggard for the past year.

But that, too, is starting to change as spring arrives and the country emerges from the most recent major wave of new cases in January. China’s domestic vaccination campaign is gaining steam after lagging behind those of other countries, helping dispel concerns for travelers.

China’s National Health Commission said it had administered more than 140 million vaccine doses as of Monday, enough for one in 10 Chinese citizens to have received a dose.

Over the recent three-day traditional tomb-sweeping holiday, which ended Monday, Chinese travelers made 102 million trips, more than double that of the same period a year earlier and equivalent to 94.5% of the trips made over the holiday in 2019, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism said Monday.

The doors, however, are still locked for international travel. Zhang Wenhong says that could only happen next spring — NEXT SPRING! — not great news for the thousands of students in India still waiting to go back to their universities in China...

Here’s an example today illustrating how China's been able to keep the  numbers under control at home. Via the SCMP:

The top Communist Party official of Ruili, the Chinese city bordering Myanmar, has been dismissed from his post over “serious dereliction of duty” after failing to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks in recent months. “Three Covid-19 outbreaks within half a year in Ruili, especially the epidemic in March, have severely undermined the epidemic control efforts in the country and the province, and seriously hurt the province’s economic and social development,” authorities in the southwestern province of Yunnan said in a statement on Thursday.

It said the dismissal of Gong Yunzun, the city’s party chief who bore the main responsibility for leading Covid-19 control efforts, should serve as a warning to other officials. It said the decision to demote Gong to a first-level researcher in the civil service was made after an investigation by provincial officials. The dismissal came as the city reported 11 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total ongoing outbreak to 76 cases. The border city with 300,000 residents has run two rounds of mass testing and started a mass vaccination drive to control the outbreak.

COMMENT: China’s biggest current local outbreak that’s triggering a sense of alarm is *11 new cases*

And finally…

This is quite a yarn:

Wedding days are infamous for shocking moments that are remembered for a lifetime, but it might be hard for any marriage to surpass what happened in Suzhou, in eastern China, on March 31.

As the wedding celebrations were kicking off, the groom’s mother noticed what seemed to be an impossible coincidence: the bride had a birthmark that seemed strangely familiar. According to various Chinese-language media outlets, a birthmark on her hand looked exactly like one that belonged to her daughter, who she lost as a baby decades ago.

The eagle-eyed future mother-in-law asked the bride’s parents an uncomfortable question: “did you adopt your daughter?” The adoption had been a family secret, so the fact that the woman knew this confidential information was a major clue.

When the family said “yes”, the mother-in-law broke down in tears and claimed the bride was her daughter that she had been trying to find for 20 years. Then the bride also broke down, saying she had also been searching for her biological mother…

Read on at the SCMP to find out how this ends…

Thank you for reading! The newsletter will be back next week. Have a good weekend!