Dangerous trends along the Indo-China border

India China border dispute
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Colonel Ajay Singh (retd)

Pune, June 19, 2020: The Chinese intrusions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the recent clash which led 20 Indians and a reported 35 Chinese soldiers killed mark a very dangerous escalation and a complete turnaround in Indo-China ties. The Chinese have occupied key heights in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh. 


They have followed it up with other incursions along the picturesque Pangong Tso lake and in Sikkim also. This time they have built up their troops before making the incursions, which means that it had planned out well in advance. Their intransigence indicates that the Chinese do not intend to withdraw but will stay put and try to alter the status of the Line of Actual Control.


Why did these intrusions take place? While the Line of Actual Control is not demarcated or even defined, Indian and Chinese troops have remained behind a roughly accepted boundary and barring occasional stand-offs, there have been no clashes. The last major clash was at Nathula in September 1967 when around 70 Indians and over 300 Chinese died in an intense three-day encounter involving Machine guns and Artillery fire. There was another clash in 1975 when patrols fired at each other in thick fog causing four deaths. Since then, there has been no firing or killings and this makes this clash even more significant. 


What has altered the status quo was the change of status of Ladakh and statements emanating from senior political leaders of ‘reclaiming Aksai Chin’ which is held by China and is the strategically important area from where the China Pakistan Economic Corridor road passes into their province of Xinjiang. This, coupled with the buildup of infrastructure, on the Indian side was perceived by China as a long-term threat. The occupation of the areas in the Galwan Valley and along the Pangong Tso lake was more than a message. They were designed to give them a position which would allow them to dominate India’s key roads and negate their potential.


Even after the clashes, the Chinese have not withdrawn. They have built up over 3000 troops there. In the current climate, talks will be futile, though we should continue with talks at all levels to defuse the situation. The only satisfactory conclusion would be for both sides to move back to the pre-April positions. Should that not take place, it would mean that the Chinese will be occupying area inside our territory and evicting them will be well-nigh impossible.


Despite the rising tensions, it is unlikely that a war will take place. The Chinese do not want an all-out war since the Indian Army will fight them to a stalemate. Yet, this has set a dangerous trend where the Chinese could nibble away at pieces of strategic land inside our territory, all along the 3448 long-disputed borders, forcing us to react. Anyone of these actions could well get out of hand and provoke further confrontations. 


It is pointless to expect normalcy to return soon. Pakistan is also likely to join the fray with increased activity in Kashmir, and along the Line of Control (LOC) to tie down Indian troops and to further draw attention to the Kashmir issue.


We are at a dangerous phase, but we need to put on a united front and evolve a comprehensive, long-term strategy to deal with the new front that has opened up along the Indo-China border.   

 (Col Ajay Singh (retd) is a renowned author and military historian who has written four books and over 170 articles.)