1. PLA pulls back from Galwan clash site
Disengagement begins after Doval-Wang Yi phone call; tents, structures dismantled at points on LAC
- Three weeks after the worst military clashes in decades, India and China have begun the process of disengagement at contentious locations along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC), a government source said on Monday.
- The disengagement process, a work in progress, commenced after Special Representatives (SRs) Ajit Doval and Wang Yi, tasked to hammer out a solution to the boundary dispute, spoke over telephone on Sunday evening. The Hindu had reported on Sunday that the SRs would hold talks to resolve boundary tensions between the two countries.
- In the first signs of de-escalation, Chinese troops moved back some distance and dismantled tents at some locations along the LAC.
- In the Galwan Valley, Chinese troops have shifted 2 kilometres from the site of the June 15 violent clashes while some tents had been removed by the PLA in the Finger 4 area of Pangong Tso, government officials said on Monday.
- “The PLA was seen removing tents and structures at Patrolling Point (PP) 14. Some rearward movement of vehicles is seen at the general area of Galwan, Hotsprings and Gogra,” the government source said. Without giving the specific distances moved, the source said the pullback at each location would be confirmed after verification.
- Separate statements from the Indian and Chinese governments after Mr. Doval and Mr. Wang’s talks suggested that both were keen to put an end to the serious troop build-up along their contentious boundary. Both statements stressed the need for a “complete” disengagement along the LAC.
- At Pangong Tso, some tents have been removed from the Finger 4 area and the PLA has moved back some distance, said a second government source without elaborating, adding that details of the pullback had to be verified on the ground.
Pangong Tso issue
- Pangong Tso is one of the most contentious areas of the current stand-offs, with the PLA moving about 8 km inside up to Finger 4. India’s claim is till Finger 8 as per the alignment of the LAC.
- “Chinese troops have shifted 2 km from the face-off site in Galwan. Temporary structures being removed by both sides,” a senior government official told The Hindu adding that a physical verification had also been conducted.
- The PLA had moved well within India’s perception of the LAC in the Galwan Valley after the June 15 incident, when 20 soldiers were killed. India had matched China’s presence with bunkers and temporary structures and the two armies were in “eyeball to eyeball” positions.
Corps Commander talks
- As part of an understanding reached during the June 30 Corps Commander-level talks, on Sunday, a survey was done to verify if China had acted on its assurances.
- A defence official said on the condition of anonymity that this was just the initial step in the phased disengagement process. It was during the “de-escalation” process on June 15 that the violent clash occurred in the Galwan Valley. The Chinese have given no figures on their dead and wounded.
- As reported, the two military commanders indicated that at first the de-escalation would take place at all the friction points — Galwan, Pangong Tso, Hot Springs — and then “depth areas” such as Depsang plains in the north, where China had amassed troops, would be looked into.
- On June 19, China’s Foreign Ministry said “the Galwan Valley was located on the Chinese side of the LAC in the western section of the Sino-Indian border”, suggesting it was making new claims in the area.
2. Coronavirus is airborne, 239 experts warn in letter to WHO
Evidence has implications for containment strategy
- The coronavirus is finding new victims worldwide, giving rise to clusters of infection that increasingly confirm what many scientists have been saying for months — the virus lingers in the air indoors, infecting those nearby.
- In an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), 239 scientists in 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing that smaller particles can infect people, and are calling for the agency to revise its recommendations. The researchers plan to publish their letter in a scientific journal.
- If airborne transmission is a significant factor, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients.
Filters may help
- Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimise recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors.
- The WHO has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor. NYT
3. India’s foreign relations and the course of history
As examples show, national interest is that which is based on the perception of the government of the day
- The Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public and undisguised reference to China’s expansionism in his address to Indian troops last week, on July 3 in Ladakh was so obvious that the Chinese lost no time in rejecting the allegation. As proof of China’s non-expansionism, their spokesman, denying the charge, said that China had signed boundary agreements with all but two of its neighbours; in a Tweet, the spokesperson said: “#China has demarcated boundary with 12 of its 14 neighboring countries through peaceful negotiations, turning land borders into bonds of friendly cooperation.”
Down memory lane
- Mr. Modi’s deliberate and no doubt well-thought-out speech does raise a question in one’s mind. Did he realise China’s expansionism only after what has happened in eastern Ladakh in recent weeks? Or, has he had such thoughts about China all along and decided to give expression to them only now? One can expect that Mr. Modi must have had the measure of China’s President Xi Jinping during his many meetings with him over the years.
- The Prime Minister’s talk of Chinese expansionism reminded me of what Mrs. Indira Gandhi told me more than once during the time I served in her Prime Minister’s Office. She said: “I can think of a time down the road in future when we might have normal, peaceful relations with Pakistan, but never with China because China basically is an expansionist power.” She distrusted China as she did other countries including the Soviet Union. She surely did not trust Pakistan. Perhaps her basic approach in foreign policy was that in international relations, there is no such thing as trust. U.S. President Ronald Reagan talked of ‘Trust, but verify”; Mrs. Gandhi’s approach seemed to be: “Verify and still not trust”.
Nehru, China and Kashmir
- Jawaharlal Nehru, on the other hand, had convinced himself that China will not attack India. His Defence Minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, likely played a big part in inclining Nehru towards this conviction. Regrettably, none of his advisers cautioned him against this miscalculation; most of them had no experience in foreign relations. Nehru was not guided by any ideological considerations. Yes, he dreamt of India, and him, playing a big role on the world stage and believed that China could be a partner in that endeavour. Even the present government sees India acting as “Vishwaguru”. Whatever his reasons, there is no doubt that his China policy was hugely faulty. It would be healthy for all of us admirers of Nehru — a rapidly dwindling tribe — including the Indian National Congress party, to acknowledge this. But Nehru did not commit any Himalayan blunder in Kashmir. When a ceasefire was called for in January 1949, it was not because he was pacifist by nature or that he trusted the United Nations or any other country to label Pakistan as aggressor and persuade it to vacate the aggression. By that time, he had seen enough of British duplicity and America’s leaving the lead on the Kashmir issue to the British. The reality on the ground was that the Indian Army was in no position to run over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir at that time. This has been definitively and conclusively brought out by respected scholars as well as in the official history of the war published by the Defence Ministry several years later, after thorough research and interviews with all the relevant players, including senior most Indian military officers, at the time.
- Nor was Nehru influenced by any ideological bias. I do not know for a fact that he was a leftist. I do know that he believed strongly that in foreign policy, national interest was the only guiding principle. In his response to a letter Albert Einstein wrote to him a few weeks before Independence, Nehru described foreign policy as essentially “selfish”. He was also clear in his mind that India’s interest lay with the West. India needed technology and other assistance which he was convinced could be obtained only from America. The Soviets, he believed, were of no use in this matter. It was only after the Americans concluded the military agreement with Pakistan and started giving it massive quantities of arms that Nehru began looking to the Soviet Union. The mistakes and even the blunder over China that he committed were caused by wrong assessments and not due to any ideological factors.
- Mrs. Gandhi has been similarly accused of being naive and too trusting when she allowed Pakistan’s 90,000 prisoners of war (POWs) to return to their country without getting anything in return. Nobody is mentioning what she could have asked as quid pro quo. Should she have asked Pakistan to vacate all the territory it had occupied in Jammu and Kashmir? And for how long should she have kept the POWs in our country, until Pakistan returned our territory? Again, at Simla, nobody could state with conviction if she really believed that Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would live up to his commitment, oral as it was, to transform the ceasefire line into an international border. And if Bhutto did give such promise — which Pakistan denies — and implemented it, would the Indian Parliament have accepted it? Today’s ruling party wants to reclaim (by what means has not been clarified) even Aksai Chin from China. It is nobody’s idea that India should give up its claims to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or Aksai Chin; the question is only about reiterating the claims publicly and in a charged atmosphere. As they say, all foreign policy is essentially domestic policy and this is true of all governments everywhere and at all times.
- The purpose in mentioning all of the above is not to exonerate any of the previous generation of leadership. They must be held accountable for the mistakes or blunders they might have committed. They acted, in the prevailing circumstances, as best as they could, according to their perception of national interest. After all, national interest is that which the government of the day decides it is. One government might conclude that the civil nuclear deal with the United States served India’s national interest; some other government ruled by some other party or even the same party but at another time and in different circumstances may think otherwise. By the same token, Mr. Modi, in the conduct of India’s foreign policy, surely does not allow any extraneous considerations to influence his thinking, and is basing his approach by what he perceives as furthering our national interests. History will pronounce its analysis in due course.
- Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, a former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was Special Envoy for West Asia in the Manmohan Singh government