An inflection point in Indo – China Relations
1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS
The long drawn Sino-Indian border dispute reached its inflection point on Monday with the unfortunate death of 20 soldiers of the Indian Army. This is the first deadly clash in the border area between the two nations over the 45-year long dispute.
1.1 News in Detail
- The deadly clash took place in Galwan Valley in the disputed Eastern Ladakh Region.
- There is no official report on causalities on the Chinese side.
- China accused Indian troop of crossing the border twice, "provoking and attacking Chinese personnel".
- Later, Military officials from both the side met to diffuse the situation.
2. INDIA – CHINA BORDER DISPUTE
2.1 History of the dispute
- India – China cultural relations go back to ancient times. The traditional Silk Route and spread of Buddhism to South East Asia via China are testimony to it.
- Today, India and China share a 3,488 km long boundary, which it disputed in its entirety.
- The India – China border is demarcated by the McMahon line, after its author Sir Henry McMahon, a British negotiator. The line was agreed upon during a tripartite conference in Shimla between India, China and Tibet and led to delimitation of Indo-Tibetan boundary.
- Initially all the three parties agreed but later china refused to accept the boundary line calling it illegal.
- In 1950s china built a 1200 km road which ran through the Aksai Chin Region of Ladakh claimed by India. This coupled with other boundary skirmished led to the 1962 border war between the nations. The boundary established after the war is called as Line of Actual Control (LAC).
2.2 Boundary Skirmishes between the two nations
- After establishment of the LAC, the border peace between India and China has been hanging by a thread.The border line is marred by many skirmishes, most highlighted being:
- 1967 -Nathu La and Cho La clashes
- 1987 -Sino-Indian skirmish in Sumdorong Chu Valley
- 2017 -China–India border standoff in Doklam - In June 2017, the Chinese began constructing a road in the disputed area of Doklam, near the Doka La pass.
2.3 Attempts to resolve the India – China Border dispute.
- Harmony was established between India and China in 1976 and High Level border talks were initiated in 1981 to find a permanent solution. The talks proved unfruitful and broke after eight rounds in 1987.
- 1988 - Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visited China and consequently the Joint Working Group (JWG) was set up to resolve the dispute.
- 1993 - Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Indo – China Border areas was signed.
- 1996 - Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the Military Field along the LAC was signed.
- 2003 - One special representatives each from India and China were appointed to solve the border dispute politically but this too did not yield much
2.4 Bilateral treaties between India and China to address border disputes
- 1993: Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas
- 1996: Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the Military Field along the LAC
- 2005: Protocol on the Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas
- 2012: Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs
- 2013: Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between India and China
3. WHY ARE TENSIONS AT A ALL TIME HIGH
At the heart of it is competing and conflicting strategic goals of both the nations. Following developments shed more light on the underlying issue:
3.1 The Darbuk-Shyokh-Daulat Beg Oldie(DSDBO) Road
- The construction of the 255-km long Darbuk-Shyokh-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) all-weather road is probably the most important reason for the recent conflict between India and China.
- The DSDBO Road is at an elevation of 13,000 - 16,000 ft. It took almost 20 years for the India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to build it.
- The road connects Leh to DBO, which is the northernmost part on Indian territory in Ladakh.
- DBO lies at base of Karakoram pass, which separates Xinjiang Autonomous Region from Ladakh.
- The Galwan River has traditionally been a peaceful location. Recently China revamped military infrastructure constructions along the Galwan River, posing a direct threat to DSDBO Road.
- The Global Times, a Chinese state-run media outlet held that the Galwan Valley region is a Chinese territory and according to the Chinese military, India has forced its way into the valley changing the status quo along the LAC.
3.2 The Union Territory of Ladakh
- Last year India ended the limited autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh became a Union Territory on 31st of October 2019.
- The federally administered area of Ladakh includes Aksai Chin, an area claimed by India but administered by China.
3.4 China – Pakistan Economic Corridor
The Karakoram Highway passes through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, connecting Pakistan to its all-time ally China.
The highway connects China to the southern Pakistani port of Gwadar and provides China a foothold in the Arabian Sea.
China has invested $60 Billion in China Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) under its Belt and Road Initiative. It has been pushing aggressively for its Belt and Road Initiative and the recent strategic and geo-political developments in India have marred the Chinese ambitions.
3.3 The 2020 Border Skirmish
- The first standoff in 2020 took place on 5 May which soldiers clashing at PangongTsowhich is a lake that extends from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China. The LAC passes through the Pangong Tso.
- Later again in May, the soldiers clashed again in Sikkim.
- The third skirmish took place in Eastern Ladakh when Chinese troops had entered the Indian territory in the Galwan River valley objecting the construction of a road branching off from the Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road into Galwan valley.
- There are reports of huge development in Chinese military infrastructure including military-style bunkers, military trucks, and road-building equipment.
- Diplomatic talks for de-escalation were underway when the 15 June incident took place in Galwan Valley leading to the killing of 20 India Soldiers.
4. ESCALATING CHINESE BORDER CONFLICTS WITH OTHER NATIONS
- Sun Tzu, the Chinese military general, strategist, writer and philosopher held that, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.
- China seems to be using this dictum to act while leaders around the world are distraught and engaged in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Recently China intercepted and detained Vietnamese fishing boats near the Paracel archipelago
- Declared two new municipal districts to control the disputed islands.
- Published Chinese names of 80 geographic and underwater features in South China Sea.
- Imposed a fishing moratorium on other countries.
- Intruded into Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
- Crossed themedianlineintheTaiwan Strait.
- Harassed commercial vessels from the Philippines.
5. GOING FORWARD
5.1 Importance of the region for India
- Ladakh is strategically very important to India. It has the Siachen glacier where Kargil conflict took place. “Operation Meghdoot” was launched in 1984 to capture the Siachen Glacier and it has since, played a central role in India's security spectrum.
- West of the Glacier lies Pakistan-occupied Gilgit Baltistan, East of it lies China-occupied Aksai Chin.
- The Indian Army has maintained a strong presence in the Glacier to ensure peace in the region.
5.2 Pakistan and Chinese Ideology
- Pakistan constantly pursues the policy of “bleeding India by a thousand cuts”.
- China has been tactically nibbling away land, by taking recourse to the deceptive rubric of “perception of claimlines”.
- Mao Zedong had said that Tibet (Xizang) is China’s right-hand palm which is detached from its five fingers of Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA (Arunachal).
- The Chinese establishment aim to reclaim theso called “MiddleKingdom”, which according to the Chinese was taken away by the foreign powers when China was at its weakest in the 1950s.
5.3 The way forward for India
- India cannot propagate peace at the cost of its territorial integrity. Indian hospitality and call for peace under Wuhan spirit and Mahabalipuram meeting has not been reciprocated by China which continues with its old aggressive and expansionist ways.
- The government should call for an all party meet including the opposition to foster a unanimous stand on the current escalation and a united Indian response.
- The severed diplomatic ties with Nepal on Indo-Nepal border issue need to be amicably resolved.
- India should continue to form amicable relations with its neighbours and democracies around the world.
- The tragic deaths of our brave and courageous soldiers cannot and should not go invain. We the people of India should firmly resolve to maintain communal harmony in our societies and promote prosperity with equality and aid out bit in defence preparedness of the country.
- Determined and united we can protect the integrity of our country and its people and show the Chinese establishment that fear can only get you so far.