India-China Border-Indian Army and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have confronted each other once again in the latest border clashes near the Galwan valley in Eastern Ladakh region. This clash occurred in May-June, 2020, three years after the Doklam standoff between India and China in 2017. Both the sides faced casualties. These were the first casualties faced by Indian Army in a clash at the Indo-Chinese border since 1975. Though the Indian troops were armed but as per the Indo-China Agreements of 1996 and 2005, there should not be use of fire arms, guns, hazardous chemicals, explosives etc. within 2 km of Line of Actual Control. These agreements state that two sides should resolve their disputes through peaceful and friendly consultations.
The Issue in Depth
The Galwan valley, where the clashes primarily took place is located between Ladakh in the West and Aksai Chin in the East. The Galwan river has its source in Aksai Chin, on China’s side of LAC and it flows from the East to Ladakh where it meets Shyok river. On India’s side of the LAC, Beijing is now claiming the entire Galwan valley on its side of LAC and India has rejected the claim as exaggerated and untenable. In the past, China has modified its earlier maps to show that China has sovereign rights over the entire Galwan valley. Now, China is unilaterally trying to alter the LAC, even when according to a 1993 agreement, China has agreed to strictly respect and observe the LAC between two sides.
According to the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquility agreement, the two sides have agreed to jointly check and determine the segments of LAC where they have different views of the LAC. The other two regions where there have been clashes include the hot springs area south of Galwan valley and Pangong Tso lake, further South of the hot springs area in the Union Territory of Ladakh. These two regions are strategically important. The Pangong Tso is a landlocked lake in Ladakh and lies in the path of Chushul approach which is one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive in the Indian territory. The Pangong Tso lake is governed by fingers, which are cliffs protruding into the water body on its Northern bank. India claims that LAC passes through finger 8 on the East whereas China claims the LAC to be passing through finger 2 in the West. China has blocked Indian troops from patrolling the lake beyond finger 4, thus keeping an 8 km territory from finger 4 to finger 8 under its military control.
India and China share 3,488 km long Line of Actual Control. It is the demarcation line that separates Indian controlled territory from Chinese territory. Both countries have different views owing to the undernarcated , which lead to transgressions and face-offs time to time. India considers to be 3488 km long whereas China considers it to be only 2000 km long. The India-China borders can be categorised into three sectors
- Western Sector (Aksai Chin) The region is claimed by the Chinese government post 1962 war as an autonomous part of Xinjiang region. Geographically, it belongs to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This sector witnesses highest transgressions
- Central Sector It is less disputed section of the Indo-China border but the clash of Doklam sector in 2017 and Nathu La pass trading issues have brought distress
- Eastern Sector McMahon Line had differentiated India and China in this sector
but in 1962 war, the People’s Liberation Army occupied 9000 sq km area of India. The announcement of a unilateral ceasefire made them step back on the international borderline. However, China has been claiming the area as a as its own and named it South Tibet.
Concerns Along the Indo-China Border
China is now claiming the entire Galwan valley and wants to unilaterally alter the LAC position. But this is not the only issue along the long India-China border. There are several permanent concerns that characterise the border between India and China. These include
• Undemarcated LAC
The alignment of the LAC was never been agreed upon. The LAC is not a clearly demarcated line but it is based on the perceptions of the two sides. The current perception of LAC reflects the territories that are currently under the control of each side but the territorial boundary dispute is still a pending issue. India claims the LAC as the line which is marked on the maps of Survey of India, that includes even the Aksai Chin occupied by China. In China’s case LAC corresponds to mainly its claim line but in the Eastern sector, China claims entire Arunachal Pradesh and South Tibet.
• Different Claims
India and China do not agree upon the areas they claim. Differences in perception, particularly in 13 spots in the Western, middle and Eastern sector of the border often leads to faceoffs when the military patrolling units encounter each other in areas which are not clearly demarcated as to under whose control do they lie. Some of these areas are Chumar, Demchok, and Northern Bank of Pangong Tso lake.
• Chinese Tactics
China leaves several territorial disputes intentionally unsettled so that they can use the grey areas to pressurise India at their own convenience. The border conflicts along the LAC seem to be indicative of this Chinese approach to use border issue to pressurise the Indian side.
There has been a weakening of protocols and erosion of trust between both the sides due to frequent clashes and faceoffs. Various agreements in place such as the Agreement on Peace and Tranquility along the LAC signed in 1993 has not been implemented fully. The 1996 agreement on confidence building measures too has not been fruitful in resolving the disputes.
Concerns with Foreign Policy of India
India’s growing power in the Asian region means that it needs a new paradigm for its foreign policy. If the current issue is not diplomatically managed, this may also cause great uncertainty in China’s approach towards India as it has two neighbours that are hostile towards India.
There are some aspects of the foreign policy that have changed considerably and India needs to revisit that policy. Earlier India was seen as a natural rising power in South Asia and the Indian ocean region. It was the de facto leader of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India had committed itself to multilateralism and the Central Asian Connectivity Project with Iran as its gateway.
There were investments worth billions in Afghanistan and it enjoyed goodwill and influence in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India was competing and cooperating with China at the same time. In the current scenario, there has been a relative decline in India’s regional prowess, especially in the neighbourhood. The institution of SAARC has weakened. Nepal has turned hostile towards India adopting a new map, possibly under Chinese influence.
Sri Lanka has tilted towards China which has undertaken massive infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka’s port cities. Bangladesh too has presented its reservations on the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. When Afghanistan is undergoing transition, India has been out of multi-party talks. All these deficiencies present an opportunity for China to act as a supplementary in place of India in the region.
China has also made aggressive interferences in the internal affairs of smaller Asian countries. India has not provided support to these small nations to prevent Chinese aggression. Thus, India needs to build a stable order to counter these subtle Chinese ways of increasing its powers and intimidating its neighbours. There will be an urgent need to recalibrate the foreign policy dimensions to counter the Chinese offensive. Institutions such as the QUAD can be effectively used to contain China and balance the power dynamics in the region.
Reason for Chinese Aggression Along the LAC
There are several reasons apart from the undemarcated LAC, differing perceptions and issues with India’s foreign policy. These include:
Change in the Status of Jammu and Kashmir
India has changed the status of Jammu and Kashmir to a Union Territory which may have infuriated China as it lays huge claims on the Ladakh region. China had also reacted furiously when India ended the protectorate of Sikkim in 1975 and integrated with India. China has also several claims in the Arunachal Pradesh. So any changes in the polity and governance of these territories makes China pressurise India on several fronts.
• India’s Developing Border Infrastructure
India has been strengthening its border infrastructure along the LAC. India has also constructed and upgraded the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road in the region that has also pushed China to pressurise the Indian establishment. With more developed infrastructure, Indian troops can patrol more areas than before which also leads to frequent clashes along the border.
• Bilateral Relations
There has been some erosion in bilateral relations between both countries. India has been against the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. India has also put several curbs on Chinese investments. India’s assertions on Gilgit-Baltistan is seen in China as an attack on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
• India-US Alignment
India’s foreign policy calls for non-alignment with any country or alliance. But India has, (in recent times) moved closer to USA. An evident degree of geopolitical convergence also exists between the US and India in the Indo-Pacific region, directed against China. The Quad Security Dialogue has also infuriated the Chinese as it is being perceived as an anti-China alliance. India is also projected as an alternative to China in the South Asian region.
Weakening Relation With Neighbours
China has made aggressive claims on the LAC as India’s neighbourhood relations with various countries have deteriorated. Pakistan and Nepal have made aggressive claims on Indian territory with both of them even publishing new maps that show Indian territory as their own. Sri Lanka has moved closer to China and Bangladesh has expressed its concerns over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
China’s Internal Politics
Internal pressures have been generated inside China due to COVID-19 and its effects on the Chinese economy that has seen a downslide amid the biggest health crisis China has faced since decades. The political and economic tensions have greatly aggravated pressures on Chinese leadership and anti-China wave around the world has further worsened matters for it. Thus , it is putting pressure on its neighbours to reascertain it’s supremacy and sprout domestic emotions.
Tactics to Solve the Disputes
India should first diffuse the tensions along the border with the help of existing mechanisms. There have been several rounds of talks too that have possibly resolved matters. But these standoffs are not merely border conflicts. They have a wider dimension to them. These dimension should be taken into account while dealing with China problem. The possible tactics to resolve these issue are
Rather than openly considering the military option, India should go for diplomatic engagements with the Chinese. It should work towards creating international opinion in its support regarding border violations. Diplomatically India can create an international opinion that China is wrong and India has peaceful intentions whereas China’s intentions are expansionist.
• Maintaining Peace
India should not militarily offend China in the first place. It should realise that maintaining peace on the borders is essential for the whole region. It should act responsibly like a leader and maintain just and peaceful relations with even its neighbouring countries. Diplomatically its messaging capacity should be improved to spread the message of peace rather than conflicts in the region. It should also engage with the underdeveloped and developing countries of the region so as to provide them direct and indirect aid. This will maintain prosperity in the region and help in countering Chinese influence in these countries.
• United India
Above all, India should become all united as that is the best antidote than any alliance and counter offensive. It should reiterate and rejuvenate the concept of unity in diversity. It should learn from The Dalai Lama as it is a symbol of enduring hope for millions of people. It should not abandon the Buddhist Teacher under Chinese pressures. All these tactics will produce excellent results and prevent the Chinese from threatening India.
India should move with caution and diplomatically put pressure on the Chinese side. It should seek US aid in pressurising China. The relations with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other neighbours should be cordial so that they do not side with the Chinese. On the domestic front, development activities should be carried out on the China-India border so that China does not have an upper hand in the border infrastructure. The talks at the highest levels must be resumed with caution, keeping India’s interests in mind.
Finally, it must be remembered that India and China are neighbours and have enjoyed historical relations between two nations. There is much for both the countries to gain from peace and a lot to lose from wars and fights.
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