India and China are in the final stage of setting up a military hotline at the Director General of Military Operations level. Determining the protocol, possibility of having translators for Mandarin and English and other technical details are being sorted out. The two sides are also finalising two more border personnel meeting (BPM) points at Uttarakhand and Ladakh.
The measures are meant to ensure peace along the line of control (LAC) and defusing tension emerging from Dokalam like standoffs effectively and quickly. The northern border has become militarily important after China has retained a brigade (close to 2,000 troops) in the Dokalam area, not far away from the Siliguri corridor.
The concept for a hotline emerged from an existing one between India and Pakistan. It has ensured cooperation between the armed forces at the border for ensuring peace percolates to the lower commands. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in 2015, the two sides agreed to operationalise the hotline. The issue was brought up again at the 10th round of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs, held at Beijing on November 17.
“The proposal is moving forward and the protocol and modalities are being worked out between the two sides,” said a senior government official. Issues of protocol entail who calls first, would it be the Indian DGMO or his Chinese counterpart.
“Another issue is having a translator who can speak Mandarin on the Indian side and one who can speak English fluently on the other side. This would mean that although the conversation over the hotline would be between the two senior officers, it could take the form of a conference call with translators,” another official said.
Technical details of the new channel, including how it will be setup between the two countries, is also being worked out. A reason why the hotline could not be setup earlier was because China had begun implementing military organisational reforms, including establishing five regional joint theatre commands, which are yet to settle down. The reforms could also play a role in fixing a date for establishing the hotline.
Sources explained that as the reforms include joint structures between the services, the Chinese DGMO level officer could be from the army, air force or navy.
The functioning of this hotline will also be different from the individual ones present at the five BPM points. At each BPM, it is the operator from each side which reads aloud a written message, in Mandarin, to the Chinese and in English to the Indian side. Unlike the proposed DGMO hotline, the concerned officers don’t speak here. The DGMO level hotline will also discuss issues meant for a higher level.
In regard to BPMs, there is a plan to set one up near Lipulekh, where the LAC passes in Uttarakhand. “There is no BPM point in Uttarakhand, therefore all issues pertaining to it have to be discussed at other BPM points. This is why it is important to have one here,” said an official.
A BPM is also being planned at either Chumar or Demchok in Ladakh, said an official. Currently, the BPMs are held at five established locations-
Daulat Beg Oldie and Chushul in Ladakh, Bum La and Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh, and Nathu La in Sikkim.