India 2020 : ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ — the famous slogan which was the catchphrase of India’s diplomacy with China in the mid 1950s now seems to be a distant dream as the two Asian powerhouses are entangled in a serious border dispute along Eastern Ladakh and Naku La in Sikkim.
The current border crisis between India and China is not new. There are various stretches of dispute between the 3,488 long Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The India-China border is divided into three sectors — Western (Ladakh), Middle (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand) and Eastern (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). The Middle sector remains largely peaceful. India accuses China of illegally occupying Aksai Chin in Ladakh, while China does not accept the McMahon Line as the official border because it was signed by the Tibetan representatives in the 1914 Simla Convention, and claims the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.
We look back at some of the more recent INDO-SINO border skirmishes post 2014 and try and connect them with India’s post independence history. We also look at the strategic timing and the diplomacy behind these altercations.
May 2020: Eastern Ladakh and Sikkim
The recent scuffle started near the northern banks of the Pangong Tso Lake, two-thirds of which is under Chinese control. Sources state that on May 5, the Chinese objected to the presence of Indian troops in the disputed area which led to fist-fights and stone pelting, leaving a few injured on both sides.
On May 9, there was a standoff with blows exchanged at the Naku La pass in Sikkim along the LAC, located at 19,000 feet above sea level when a patrol party of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was stopped by yjr Indian soldiers.
The more serious confrontation could happen in the Galwan Valley region of Aksai Region — the flashpoint of the 1962 War — where the Chinese have accused India of undertaking infrastructure construction activities. China was annoyed after India’s Border Roads Organisation had built the Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road last year. It does not want India to gain a military advantage by gaining access to Daulat Beg Oldi where the Indian Air Force reactivated an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in 2008.
According to sources, the trigger was the construction of the Col Chewang Rinchen Setu — India’s highest altitude all-weather bridge. The developments at Pangong Tso Lake and Naku La seemed to have triggered the PLA who made incursions 1 to 3 km inside what India claims is their territory. The PLA has moved 5,000 soldiers of its border defence regiments close to the LAC.
This latest aggression by China comes at a time when the country is facing criticism from all over the world for the spread and lack of transparency of information related to Covid-19. China was forced to agree to an impartial probe into the virus source and the role of the WHO’s response to the pandemic after a resolution seeking the same was backed by 120 countries, including India. India’s new leadership role as the Chair of the Executive Board of the WHO may have also peeved China and forced it to show assertiveness back home amid huge economic losses due to Covid-19.
China was also unhappy after India revoked Article 370 in 2019, specifically over the formation of Ladakh as a Union Territory — as it claims Aksai Chin to be a part of their territory.