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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 80

India- China Face Off

By Ashok Handoo - Syndicate Features

What used to be a tranquil border between India and China despite a long pestering dispute is changing its texture. Except once after the 1962 conflict, the border has not seen any firing though minor incursions and retreats by PLA have become a norm. The 1975 firing incident in Arunachal Pradesh had left four Indian soldiers injured.

And now another firing incident in Ladakh in which India hast lost a Colonel and 19 soldiers gives a new twist to the situation. There are reports that China suffered more – some reports put their toll at 43 though Beijing has not given out any casualty figures so far.

One hopes the situation does not take a turn for the worse.

In recent years border engagement between India and China has become almost an annual feature. In 2013 there was a stand-off in Depsang area. This was repeated next year in Chemur and then again in Doklam in 2017.
Interestingly, the 2014 Chemur incident took place at a time when the Chinese President Xi Jinping was being hosted by Prime Minister Narinder Modi in Ahmadabad.

The latest standoff is at multiple places - including Pangong Tso (Lake), Galwan Valley, Gogra post (all in Ladakh), and Naku La pass (Sikkim). China moved two PLA Brigades (about 6000 personnel) to these locations leading to a response from the Indian side.

The question being asked is why China is making these intrusions almost on a regular basis? Could it be because the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is not clearly demarcated at many places along the 4,000-kilometer-long border leading to wrong perceptions? Could it be because China wants to annex Indian Territory? But then there would possibly not have been repeated subsequent withdrawals by the Chinese Army. The area in Ladakh is full of mineral resources like thorium, uranium and beryllium. Does China have an eye on these minerals?

Or the reasons are political? May be Beijing is nursing a grudge against New Delhi for its coming too close to the United States with which China is at logger heads. If the tweet posted by a Chinese diplomat in Islamabad Wang Xianfeng (deleted later), is any indication, China is linking the border engagement with India ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Last August when India scrapped Art 370, China had termed the move as “unacceptable”.

Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament about India’s commitment to “take back” the Aksai Chin area also could have contributed to complicating the situation. Shah made no new assertion; he merely reiterated the resolve Parliament had expressed in 1994. China claims Aksai Chin as its territory.

Could India’s stand in line with global perception, of China having been secretive in corona virus disaster also have played a role?

Or the reasons could be strategic? Is china miffed at the ongoing strategic road infrastructure building by India in the area? One such road is the Darbuk-Shyok- Daulat Beg Oldi linkage in Galwan valley which takes India closer to the Karakorum Highway passing through Pakistan occupied Kashmir where China has vital interests due to the $ 60 billion CPEC project. The project connects Xinjiang with Gwadar - the world’s deepest sea port on the Arabian Sea coast which China wants to use as a naval base.

Yet another possibility could be to put pressure on India to make it subservient to China’s global interests. India is a huge market for other countries and as such is a competitor to China in business terms.

Or is the border engagement, now turning violent, result of a combination of all these factors?

Significantly, China has resolved its border issues with all the 13 countries with which it shares its border. The only exception is India. Though negotiations at the political level are on for several years to sort out the differences, a resolution is nowhere in sight.

Not much is being revealed officially on both sides. But the ruling BJP representative of the area has admitted to have lost large chunks of pasture land at several points to the Chinese army. The Indian Defense Minister Raj Nath Singh did once admit that the Chinese PLA has come in strength but did not make it clear whether they have intruded and if so, how deep.

Prime Minister Modi has not helped matters either with his cryptic remark at the all-party meeting that no one had entered Indian territory or captured any military posts. These remarks became a subject of “mischievous interpretation”, as the government itself said and led to an official clarification a day later. The violence on June 15 happened because China was trying to erect structures “just across the LAC (Line of Actual Control)” and did not desist from such actions, the PMO clarified The government also told the all-party meet that “this time, Chinese forces have come in much larger strength to the LAC and that the Indian response is commensurate.”

It is to be seen how far the Modi baiters will be satisfied by the clarification.Prime Minister may have categorically stated that India would respond firmly to any attempts to transgress the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but post-all-party meeting TV discussions raised the question - if the Chinese troops were not on Indian soil why were Indian soldiers killed.

Transparency will help to quell speculation. It is the lack of transparency that has led to all kinds of media speculation, and fake posts on the social media which tried to pass off old videos as the latest action scenes.

Neither India nor China can afford to make the border issue a flash point in view of the huge stakes the two countries have. Bravado either has to be avoided. Mutual understanding and deft handling of the situation is the need of the hour.

Stay Safe, Stay at Home, Stay Informed, But Don't Forget to Wash Your Hands.

- Asian Tribune -

India- China Face Off
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