Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai?

India and China share a brief border LAC (Line of Actual Control) which is 3500 Kms. long, most of which is disputed. This is not the first time when tensions have risen between the two Asian powers. There have been many confrontations and conflicts in the past too, but both sides were able to maintain calm by not resorting to violence from the last 40 years.

A Brief Timeline of events

On 15th June, a colonel of the Indian Army was killed along with 19 others in a hands-on fight with the PLA (People’s Liberation Army of China). Although no shots were fired, the Chinese had used clubs with nails on the ends, batons wrapped with barbed wire and stones. 

Following the events of 15th of June, the government of India decided to launch a major economic offensive against China. The government banned several Chinese apps, Tiktok being the most popular one. The call for boycotting Chinese products and deals reached an all-time high with TV anchors calling for a total boycott of Chinese products. 

After criticism of the violent clash between the two sides, both decided on disengagement of troops from the Galwan valley, but this peace was short-lived. Soon the Chinese build-up was spotted across the LAC and amid the growing fear of incursion by the Chinese side, the Indian army moved to occupy some two dozen strategic heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso on the intervening nights of 29-30th August, to dominate the area and keep a watch on a Chinese garrison below. The Chinese army was taken aback by India’s pre-emptive move. Government sources said that “Following the events of 28 and 29 August and redeployment of troops, India now has dominating positions along the southern bank of Pangong Tso, and has also beefed up its presence on the northern bank as well as in the overall Chushul sector.”

The latest incident came days after defence minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghi on the sidelines of SCO in Moscow on 4 September. Rajnath Singh reportedly told Wei that attempts by Chinese troops to unilaterally alter status quo along the LAC were in 

violation of bilateral agreements and Beijing should work with New Delhi for complete disengagement from all friction areas including Pangong Tso.

The Chinese move came on Monday night. When Chinese troops armed with primitive weapons, which looked like their traditional Gundao weapon ( a single-edge blade on the end of a pole) and with guns attempted to dislodge Indian troops from the heights of Mukhpuri which is one of the highest peaks in the Chushul sector.

PLA soldiers are seen in the general area of Mukhpari and Rezangla in Ladakh. The Indian Army said PLA soldiers attempted to capture an Indian post armed with machetes, spears and guns.

The most shocking incident came to light when after over 40 years, bullets were fired on the LAC, The Indian Army statement said: “In the instant case on 07 September 2020, it was the PLA troops who were attempting to close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC and when dissuaded by own troops, PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate our troops. However, despite the grave provocation, our troops exercised great restraint and behaved maturely and responsibly.”

While the PLA spokesperson Colonel Zhang Shuili denied these claims by saying: “Indian army illegally crossed the line and entered Bangong Hunan, the western section of the Sino-Indian border. During the operation, the Indian Army blatantly fired threats to the patrol personnel of the Chinese border guards who had made representations, and the Chinese border guards were forced to take countermeasures to stabilise the situation on the ground.”

Worsening situation

Artillery, bunkers, tanks and heavy ammunition is visible from either side. This is probably the biggest build-up in the region after almost half a century. India has gone in for mirror deployment and inducted over 30,000 additional troops and equipment at eastern Ladakh. India has put all the three services – Army, Navy and IAF – on full operational alert.

External minister S Jaishankar last week described the situation in Ladakh as “very serious” and said it calls for “very, very deep conversation” between the two sides at a political level.

When tensions were climbing due to the constant face-off between India and China, the television anchors brought defence experts, retired generals and started creating an environment of war, like it is the only sensible solution. It went on to the extent that the news channels were even comparing military might of both the nations. Warlike situations should be avoided at all times and the public opinion should always be against it, but the nation’s television media made sure that common people were filled with rage and supported a war-like situation.

Even after desperate measures and innumerable attempts to ease the tension between the two armies through bilateral talks, conferences and confrontations All has come to a standstill. With winter approaching the region, which is known for its inhabitable weather conditions, it’s important to find a solution which is beneficial to both.

The need to disengage

China, on one hand, is dealing with several global and domestic issues. Questions are being raised from all over the world over its weak handling of the Covid-19 virus. China is currently in Border disputes with around 17 other nations besides India. Not only that, but the ongoing crisis in Hong Kong and the weakening public sentiment in the country is also a cause of worry for Beijing. At this point, they can’t afford situations to worsen on the LAC.

India, on the other hand, is facing numerous domestic and global issues as well. The rapidly rising Covid-19 cases in the country have made it 2nd in the list of worst Coronavirus hit countries. Not only that, but the Indian economy is also taking a severe setback and the GDP has reached an all-time low. India is already finding it very difficult to deal with one notorious neighbour – Pakistan, with constant efforts by terrorists to infiltrate into the Indian Territory. There is a greater risk of Infiltration if the army becomes involved on the LAC.

It is in the best interests of both the countries to not resort to violence and back down before the harsh winter of Ladakh comes into play.

UPDATE: Dr S. Jaishankar, India’s external minister met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on the night of 10th September. They have come up with a 5 point course of action to de-escalate the standoff between troops at the LAC.

“The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interests of either side. They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” said a joint press statement issued after the first face-to-face meeting between the two ministers since the standoff.

Featured Image Credit: EurAsian Times

Harsh Paliwal

[email protected]