While the world is fighting with the COVID-19 crisis, the two Asian giants once again went into a stand-off amid constructions in the disputed Himalayan region. A Himalayan border standoff between China and India was triggered by India’s construction of roads and airstrips in disputed Kashmir as the later competes with former’s Belt and Road initiative. Statements from former Indian military officials and diplomats suggest that the flare-up was triggered by India’s construction of roads and airstrips.
Fist-fight And Stone-pelting Between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh
During April tensions appeared to build between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh – a high plateau at the western edge of Tibet. On May 5th the tensions erupted into violence as Chinese troops, reportedly, took issue with an Indian patrol on the north bank of Pangong lake (where the two countries have overlapping claims).
The resulting fist-fight and stone-pelting resulted in injuries on both sides, including senior officers. On May 9th another scuffle broke out 1,000km to the east at Naku La, a mountain pass near Doklam. Shortly afterward Nepal jumped between the two giants.
Nepal has repeatedly claimed that India’s decision to construct the road was a breach of an agreement between the two countries. However, India rejects Nepal’s claims of sovereignty over the area as well as its claim on the adjoining Kalapani area.
More Troops Build-up By China And India
Soldiers from both sides have been camped out in the Galwan Valley in the high-altitude Ladakh region of India-administered Kashmir, accusing each other of trespassing over the disputed frontier. Indian officials briefed that about 80 to 100 tents have sprung up on the Chinese side and about 60 on the Indian side.
Both sides, reportedly, were digging defenses and Chinese trucks have been moving equipment into the area, the officials said, raising concerns of a long stand-off. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s office statement says that China is committed to safeguarding the security of its national territorial sovereignty, as well as safeguarding peace and stability in the China-India border areas.
About 5,000 soldiers, as well as additional vehicles and arms, have been deployed by both countries, continuing the build-up of forces in the Ladakh region. Diplomats have begun talks after negotiations between Indian and Chinese military officials on May 22-23 brought no results, says the most recent report from South China Morning Post.
“Currently, government sources assess there are close to 10,000 soldiers of China on Indian territory. Dialogue is frozen, with the Chinese rebuffing Indian calls for flag meetings to resolve the situation,” Ajai Shukla said.
What triggered the recent flare-up?
PM Narendra Modi’s government has pushed for improving connectivity and has plans to build as many as 66 key roads along the Chinese border by the year 2022. One of these roads is near the Galwan valley that connects to the Indian airbase.
“The road is very important because it runs parallel to the Line of Actual Control and is linked at various points with the major supply bases inland,” says another former Indian foreign secretary.
India has decided to not back down from a standoff with China — along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and has moved troops to counter Chinese forces stationed in the region, Hindustan Times quoted people familiar with the matter as saying.
“When Modi threatens Pakistan on Indus water China plays with Brahmaputra water upstream. When Modi puts pressure on Nepal to change the border at Lipulekh China crosses LAC and intrudes Indian controlled areas in Ladakh. China’s plan is simple – To put Modi in his place!,” says Professor of Peace and Conflict Research Ashok Swain.
When Modi threatens Pakistan on Indus water China plays with Brahmaputra water upstream. When Modi puts pressure on Nepal to change the border at Lipulekh China crosses LAC and intrudes Indian controlled are in Ladakh. China's plan is simple – To put Modi in his place!
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) May 23, 2020
Why India and China face-off over Doklam – a remote corner of the Himalayas in 2017?
The 2017 China-India Doklam standoff refers to the military border standoff between the Indian Forces and the People’s Liberation Army of China over the Chinese construction of a road in Doklam near a trijunction border area, known as Donglang.
On 16 June 2017 Chinese troops with construction vehicles and road-building equipment began extending an existing road southward in Doklam, a territory which is claimed by both China as well as Bhutan. India itself doesn’t claim the territory but in support of its ally, Bhutan, Indian army troops marched across an international border to block the progress of a group of Chinese border guards the very next day.
The site of the deadlock between China and India is a bowl-shaped plateau in a region called Doklam. It is typical of the immense border shared between the two Asian giants. The crux of the dispute in Doklam is a self-contradictory old treaty, signed in 1890.
The treaty defines the border between China and Bhutan by means of a watershed, but also by reference to several mountain passes. The standoff was ignited by Chinese roadbuilders who seemed to be preparing to pave over a track to Gymochen, which China claims as its own. The pass occupies a ridge commanding a view to the Siliguri Corridor, also known as “chicken’s neck”.
The area is strategically important for India because it connects the Indian north-east to the rest of the country. So India intervened not only on behalf of Bhutan but also with its own security in mind. China disagreed with the Indian view and called it an outrage.
How Weeks-long Stand-off Ended?
The standoff between India and China over a remote road on the Doklam plateau ended with the back-off from troops on both sides and China also halted its road construction. After weeks of stand-off on August 28 both the nations announced that they had agreed to pull their troops back from the face-off in Doklam and withdrawal was completed till the end of the day.
The very next day on August 29 Bhutan welcomed the disengagement and hoped that it would lead to the maintenance of peace and tranquility as well as the status quo along the borders. However, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson uttered that China’s claims and behavior will not change, noting that China would “continue with its exercise of sovereign rights” in the disputed area.
What Is a Line Of Actual Control?
The Line of Actual Control (LAC) separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory in the western sector of the borderland. LAC was formed after the 1962 war. The boundary between India and China is undefined. India and China have different views about the exact location of the “line of actual control” triggering the encounters between troops from both sides.
Agreements signed in 1996 and 2003 established protocols to deal with such skirmishes. The agreements also include promises not to use weapons. The frequent inevitable confrontations range from mere fist-fight to rock-throwing and acrobatic flying kicks. Negotiations to define the border between India and China have made little progress.