As the Covid-19 pandemic is claiming hundreds and thousands of human lives the world over, China finds it an opportune time to amass its troops along the Sino-Indian border. Nepal also joins China to add problems to India. If this is the situation on northern side of India, the country already faces perennial ceasefire violation, militancy and extremism on its western border with Pakistan. If ceasefire violation is a regular pastime and Kashmir is a national obsession for Pakistan, India routinely quells it keeping a count but both countries suffer casualties.
Notwithstanding its own deep involvement in being the source and havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, China has started troop build-up along Sino-Indian border close to Ladakh. According to the latest information Indian and Chinese armies have been moving in heavy equipment and weaponry including artillery guns and combat vehicles to the rear bases close to the disputed areas in eastern Ladakh as the two militaries remained engaged in a bitter standoff along the Line of Control (LAC) for over four weeks. As the stand-off with China continues, India has started moving trucks with soldiers, machines and supplies to Galwan Valley in Ladakh. Bulk of the reinforcements, it is said, is being sent to Ladakh are from Kashmir. “Shifting of troops from LoC (Line of Control) to LAC happens under dire circumstances, and these are dire circumstances,” says a source.
Against the background of worsening situation on the Sino-Indian border in the wake of the military faceoff of India with China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “warm and productive” conversation with US President Donald Trump on June 2. The cordial talk took place though Narendra Modi earlier politely but assertively turning down Donald Trump’s offer of “mediating between India and China” over the Sino-Indian border tussle. Speaking about the latest situation on the border, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said that Chinese soldiers had come in “good number” at the LAC in Ladakh and India had taken all necessary steps which were necessary in the current situation.
Though there used to be sporadic incidents of clashes on the border in the past, after a long lull now Chinese troops have started the trouble by indulged in fisticuffs with the Indian counterparts along the LAC in Sikkim and Ladakh. The troops of India and China were engaged in fist-fights and stone-pelting on May 9, at Natu La in north Sikkim resulting in injuries to a number of soldiers on both sides. Reports revealed similar incidents of fist-fight and stone-pelting also took place on the northern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake in eastern Ladakh on May 5 night. However, the problem was resolved through a dialogue between the commanders of both the posts. Despite the amicable dialogue and faceoff, tension was seen growing even during the subsequent days as the troops of the both countries maintained a close watch on each other in the Pangong Tso Lake area of eastern Ladakh. As the tension continued, reports say, some Chinese military helicopters were seen flying close to un-demarcated Sino-Indian border in the area. It is also said that a fleet of jets of Indian Airforce too carried out sorties in the area.
It may be recalled that in June 2017, Indian and Chinese soldiers had been locked in a 73-day standoff in Doklam after the Indian side stopped the construction of a road in the disputed area by the Chinese Army. The Indian Army executed “Operation Juniper” and positioned 270 armed troops in the Doklam area of Bhutan. This mobilization was intended to deter a team of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers from constructing a road that would have given the Chinese access to the Indian territory. The road would have circumvented Indian posts in Doklam, and provided the Chinese access to Jampheri Ridge and a clear line of sight to the narrow Siliguri Corridor. The Corridor is commonly referred to as the “chicken’s neck” as it vitally connects seven states in India’s northeast to the rest of India.
The Doklam standoff brought both armies face-to-face, leading to a tense military standoff. Eventually, the Chinese decided to back down and halt their road preparations, though without abandoning their claim to the territory. A report titled “Looking Beyond Doklam” published by the Center for Joint War Studies, a think-tank set up under India’s Defense Ministry, notes that in response to China’s growing assertiveness and aggression, peace on the Sino-Indian border would constantly remain under stress, “with increase in intensity, frequency and depth of transgressions.” Moving forward, Doklam was likely to be the new normal.
Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping held an informal summit in April 2018 in Wuhan to improve ties between the two countries. There were also occasions when Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping met at various international forums, and more recent one being one-on-one meeting at the historic India’s port town of Mamallapuram. The casual interaction on October 11, 2019 sent signs of positive atmospherics in bilateral ties strained over Kashmir. China, however, has never supported India over the Kashmir issue, but stood by Pakistan.
But sporadic border excesses of the Chinese armed forces on the Sino-Indian border have been continuing ever since the Indo-Chinese war in 1962. The relations between India and China have never been viewed without suspicion. The popular slogan — “India china bhai bhai” — that emerged after a meeting of Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, and Chou En Lai, the then Chinese Premier, proved to be a costly hoax for India. India had to fight a bitter and unprepared war with China, which had an upper edge owing to its numerically superior troops and weapons on the border at that time.
China shares its border with 14 countries (with a total land border length of 22,116 kilometers) including India, Pakistan and Nepal. Pakistan enjoys patronage and support of China and vice versa. Nepal, which has been with India all along, seems to be repositioning itself with China over the Lipulekh Pass. The border between China and Nepal is 1,414 kilometers (879 miles) long along the mountainous range of the Himalayas that extends in northwest-southeast direction, separating the south of Tibet Autonomous Region of China and the territory of Nepal forming two tripoints — Nepal–China–India.
As Nepal raises an issue with alarm and anger to India building a Link Road up to Lipulekh, which was inaugurated by Rajnath Singh recently, India said the road “lies completely within the territory of India”. The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. But Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli stressed his country’s claim to Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh Pass and Kalapani, after his government endorsed a new political map incorporating these “disputed” regions and claimed these Indian territories as its own. The Nepalese Prime Minister said that the territory belonged to Nepal, but India had made it a disputed area by keeping its army there. However, tension has escalated between India and Nepal after India had inaugurated the road link connecting Kailash Mansarovar.
Similarly, on the western side of India, the China–Pakistan border measures 438 kilometers long and runs west-east from the tripoint with Afghanistan to the disputed tripoint with India in the vicinity of the Siachen Glacier. It traverses the Karakorum Mountains, one of the world’s tallest mountain ranges, Hunza District, Shigar District and Ghanche District (via the Siachen Glacier area) in Gilgit-Baltistan administered by Pakistan border Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County and Kargilik/Yecheng County in Kashgar Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. With an intention to have closer proximity to Pakistan, China has built an 880-kilometer-long road between the two countries, in a record period of only 36 months. Called as the Karakoram Highway (KKH) it runs from Kashgar in western China to Islamabad in Pakistan. However, certain portions of this “high road” continue to suffer from extreme weather and environmental conditions.
India has a long border with China admeasuring 3,448-kilometer, named Line of Actual Control (LAC) that informally delimits the disputed Sino-Indian frontier. There are 60 outposts including 43 north of the McMohan Line to which India claims sovereignty. In view of escalating trouble with China, India plans to build 50 more outposts on the India-China border. Since India gained its independence in 1947, it has fought four wars with Pakistan and one with China. India won all the four wars with Pakistan but lost the only one war with China
Following the flare-up that began with fist-fights and stone-throwing in Sikkim and Ladakh between India and China troops during the first week of May this year, both the countries started rushing additional troops there. Although there was some tranquility between the two countries, as the days passed by, towards the end of May this year, provoked by China, the Indian and Chinese armies have been moving in heavy military equipment and weaponry, including artillery guns and combat vehicles to their rear bases close to the disputed areas in eastern Ladakh as the two militaries remained engaged in a bitter standoff along the troubled LAC.
– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.
Picture Credits: Reuters / theedgemarkets.com