The new move in China and India border dispute has sparked new wave of tensions among the largest populations in the world. India and China, two nuclear-armed Asian neighbors, are in a tense diplomatic and military standoff following their first fatal border clash in more than 40 years.
The June 15 incident in the disputed Galwan Valley, an arid Himalayan area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between the two nations, left 20 Indian soldiers dead. China has yet to officially declare its casualties.
Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in the standoff since early May at several points along the 3,500km (2,200-mile) LAC, most of which remains un-demarcated.
The sharp tensions between the world’s two most populous countries have drawn international concerns, with the United Nations urging both sides “to exercise maximum restraint”.
Chinese troops breached the Line to set up provisional “structures” in the Galwan Valley even after military officials had reached an agreement on June 6 to de-escalate, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call.
The problem arose when an Indian patrol visited the area near a ridge to verify a Chinese proclamation that its troops had moved back from the LAC, two government sources told Reuters news agency.
The Chinese troops had thinned out, leaving behind two tents and small observation posts, which the Indian party demolished, the sources said.
Experts mainly cite two reasons for China and India border dispute-the deadliest clash since 1975.
A major reason, according to some experts, is linked to India’s unilateral move last year to repeal Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which had guaranteed a measure of autonomy to the former Jammu and Kashmir state, which also included the disputed areas in Ladakh region.
China, which, like Pakistan, saw India’s move as unilaterally affecting its territory, strongly denounced the move at the UN Security Council last year.
Analysts also believe the recent standoff is also a result of China’s pushback against India’s recent construction of infrastructure in border areas.
India inaugurated the 255km (158-mile) Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road, built along the LAC, last year. China objected, seeing the move as a threat to its interests in the region.
China’s economic corridor to Pakistan and Central Asia passes through Karakoram, which is close to Galwan Valley, the site of the June 15 clash. Galwan Valley is close to Aksai Chin Plateau, which is under Chinese control but claimed by India.
According to Happymon Jacob, professor of international relations at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, China considers the Ladakh region crucial for its “access to Central Asia and CPEC project with Pakistan in which they [China] have invested billions of dollars [about $60bn].”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was unaware of the specifics but that the Indian army had crossed into Chinese territory in several places in recent days – violating the agreement reached on June 6 – and that they should withdraw.
Calling it a “deliberate provocation” on New Delhi’s part, Zhao said: “The rights and wrongs… are very clear and the responsibility rests entirely with the Indian side.”
In response, India’s foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava cautioned China against making “exaggerated and untenable claims” on the sovereignty of the Galwan Valley area.
India says China occupies 38,000 sq km (15,000 square miles) of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas, with 12,000 Chinese soldiers reportedly pushing across the border.
Chinese advances in the Ladakh region leaves India with “painful” choices. These advances have incited new life in China and India border dispute.
“Beijing has moved into disputed territories that did not host a continual Chinese presence as recently as January 2020,” Tellis wrote on June 4, days before the brawl.
Satellite pictures taken by Earth-imaging company, Planet Labs, in the days leading up to the clash, also suggest increased Chinese activity at the Galwan Valley.
“Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told Reuters.
“There are a tonne of vehicles on both sides [of the LAC] – although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side.”
In addition to its dispute with China, India has found itself at loggerheads with two other neighbours – long-standing rival Pakistan, and Nepal.
Nepal and India have historically enjoyed good ties, but now find themselves engaged in what experts have called a cartographic war over border regions.
Last week, Nepal’s Parliament approved a new map for the country, which includes land controlled by India.
The reaction in India to Chinese advances has been one of outrage, with citizens and trade associations calling for the Modi-led government to boycott Chinese goods.
Protesters across the country were seen burning Chinese flags and products, while videos on social media showed teenagers destroying their Chinese-made mobile phones.
Beijing is India’s biggest trading partner, with annual bilateral trade worth $92bn. The trade imbalance between the two is significant, and favours China heavily.
In an interview to The Economic Times, Shyam Saran, former Indian foreign secretary, said India should avoid any “knee-jerk reactions” against China, claiming that it would be impossible for New Delhi to find alternative suppliers in the near future.