INDIA-CHINA STANDOFF as border dispute flares up with first fatal clash since 1975

With Nepal’s parliament formally to approve a revised map of the country, including three areas it disputes with its giant neighbour India. The redrawing of the map covers a relatively small region high in the Himalayas but it has stirred tensions between two of the world’s biggest powers, India and China. The Nepal-India territorial dispute is seen as a direct contributing factor to the recent flare-up on the Sino-Indian border. A military stand-off between India and China on their disputed border in the Himalayas has escalated into deadly clashes.

What happened in the clash?

The Indian Army Tuesday confirmed At least 20 people have died in clashes between Indian and Chinese in Galwan Valley along the disputed Himalayan border running along the Ladakh area of Kashmir. It is the first fatal clash since 1975 and the most serious since 1967.

Fighting broke out on Monday evening when an Indian patrol came across Chinese forces on a narrow ridge. During the confrontation an Indian commanding officer was pushed and fell into the river gorge. The confrontation came after tensions bubbled up in recent months over a new road India built in Ladakh, along the Line of Actual Control which divides the sides.

That angered China, which deployed troops and built infrastructure of its own in disputed territory, bringing the two sides’ forces in closer proximity and heightening the risk of clashes.

The latest build-up on the China-India border has come as a surprise to many, not just in New Delhi but all over the world. Why would China choose to antagonize India at this point in time? China’s relationship with the United States is on a downward spiral and Beijing is already drawing flak from the international community over the coronavirus crisis, facing new challenges in cross-strait relations and the South China Sea, and in the middle of an unprecedented social unrest, particularly in Hong Kong. What could be China’s motive or intentions behind triggering or intensifying the present crisis with India?

China’s top leadership has been tight-lipped about the development. Unlike during the Doklam stand-off of 2017, China’s state media too has been rather restrained in its coverage of the incident, with just a handful of articles.

In India, the current crisis at the border is mostly seen as a continuation of China’s post-pandemic “assertive foreign policy” across the world and also as a fallout of the overall souring of China-India ties in the recent past. The India-Nepal border row seems to be the main plot, which has acted as a catalyst raising tensions along the disputed border between China and India.

In India, focus has been turned to the Durbuk- Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi Road (DSBDBO) along the Galwan River — which runs parallel to the LAC and improves India’s access to the Karakoram Highway — as the possible trigger point for the latest blaze between China and India. But discussions on the Chinese internet indicate that China remains much more concerned about the newly constructed 80-kilometer stretch from Dharchula to Lipulekh (the gateway to Kailash-Mansarovar, a site for Hindu pilgrimage in Tibet), completed on April 17.

Tensions have been escalating since late April, when China sent thousands of troops into the disputed territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), bringing artillery and vehicles. The Chinese government, which has been more assertive in building infrastructure in the area, is anxious to frustrate any effort by India to upgrade its own military installations.

What is the history of the dispute?

India and China fought a war in 1962 over their contested border in the Himalayas. The war ended with a truce and the formation of a de facto boundary, known as the Line of Actual Control.

No official border has ever been negotiated, the region where the clashes occurred is hostile terrain, at high altitude and sparsely populated, running through the Ladakh region bordering Tibet, home to a Buddhist-majority population. It is a popular tourist destination.

What is the Line of Actual Control?

The LAC is a rough demarcation line separating Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. The exact location of sections of the line, particularly in the western Ladakh region, have remained in dispute. Efforts between the two countries to clarify the LAC have stalled in the past two decades, according to Indian media.

What do the two sides want?

Both countries have sought to establish their claims to territory, by heavily militarising the region. Both have built roads, airstrips, outpost stations, and other infrastructure, such as telephone lines. Troops conduct regular patrols along the disputed border. China claims more than 90,000sq km in the eastern Himalayas and another 38,000sq km in the west, both of which are disputed by India.

What next?

The conflict has enormous geopolitical consequences for the world. China and India are the two most populous nations on earth, and both are nuclear powers. They are led by governments run strongly along nationalist lines, and whose militaries are seen as markers of national status and pride.

Both parties have been working towards de-escalation in recent weeks but the loss of life makes the situation even more complicated and precarious.

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