China-India border clashes at Ladakh

Bisma Samo
The writer is a student of M-phil Geography at University of Karachi.

In order to understand the recent border clashes between China and India, it is imperative to know about the geography of these two countries along with some terms like Aksai Chin, Line of Actual Control (LAC), Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Naku La, North Sikkim among others.

Aksai Chin is a region located between Indian administrated Ladakh and China. It was not an important territory for natural resources and India kept ignored it till 1957. However, it held a great significance for China because it provided Beijing a convenience route to connect Chinese Tibet and Xinjiang territories. As a result, China occupied it and constructed a road that passed from Aksai Chin to connect these two regions. The road was completed in 1957 and India remained unaware of the activities. It was afterwards, India protested and first war took place between New Delhi and Beijing over this border issue in 1962. After the war, a boundary was agreed that separated Indian-administered areas of Ladakh from Aksai Chin known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The effective border between China and India including disputed sections is also referred as LAC in wider sense. Thus, China got the control of Aksai Chin, but it is still the disputed territory between China and India.

India china border clashes at ladakh
The picture shows the four territories namely Aksai Chin, Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Naku La at North Sikkim. Source: Al Jazeera.

India claims Aksai Chin to be a part of its eastern portion of the larger Kashmir region based on the old British map. But, some maps also displayed it being a part of China, thus, making the issue more complicated. The most of the recent border skirmishes between Indian and Chinese forces have been witnessed along the LAC, as Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley lie along it as well.

On 5th May 2020, small skirmishes took place between Indian and Chinese forces at Pangong Tso Lake. Indian media claimed that Chinese have entered around 5 km into Indian Territory of Ladakh. Another fight between Chinese and Indian forces erupted at Naku La Pass in the Indian state of Sikkim on 9th May same year. India has claimed that approximately 10,000 Chinese soldiers are stationed on its territories of Pangong Tso Lake, Galwan Valley and Demchok in Ladakh, and Nathu La in Sikkim. Thus, there are total four sensitive territories and out of which skirmishes have already been broken out in the two regions as mentioned above causing injury to about 100 soldiers from both sides. It is good news that both sides have tried to keep the issue limited by not firing the bullets. They have been using stones and shouting at each other.

What China wants? Why it has entered into Indian Territory? Why China is building airbase with a capacity to land fighter jets in Aksai Chin near LAC. Why Chinese military trucks are moving across the LAC? These questions must have been circulating among observers. The actual detail of the Chinese intention is not yet public, but many analysts have tried to answer these questions with their independent reasonings.

Some analysts believe that India carried out construction activities to build roads and airbase near LAC that has angered China. The fact that India is an American ally and a staunch opponent of Chinese vision of Belt Road Initiative (BRI) has further escalated the fear of Beijing. According to these analysts, the entire purpose of China to enter into Indian administered Ladakh is due to latter’s infrastructure activities that former believes will be used to disrupt China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its wider BRI vision.  Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, confirmed that the recent conflict between China and India was triggered by the latter’s “illegal constructions.” Besides, China considers Ladakh as a disputed territory and its recent annexation by India to make it a separate union territory is disliked by its administration. It is therefore; Beijing has entered into a new border conflict with New Delhi. Thus, preventing Indian illegal construction in the disputed region along LAC seems to be the main purpose of Chinese entering into Ladakh.

Indian defense analyst believes that the recent Chinese activities along LAC is to diminishes the capacity of India to create its influence in Chinese territory of Tibet, where Beijing is already in great trouble. India can be a problematic for Tibet because it has already formed a Tibetan government in exile and its spiritual leader__ Dalai Lama__ lives there. Hence, Beijing wants to engage New Delhi at LAC to prevent it from interfering in Tibet.

China might be exploiting the border clashes as pressure tactics to occupy Ladakh, in case India tries to disrupt its BRI vision. Afterward, Ladakh will appear as another disputed territory on the map of the world between the two powerful countries. The way China is constructing airbase near LAC and moving its military trucks in the region augurs its wider interest there, a part from occupying small territory. India is no match with China as far as military power is concerned because it still spends thrice the total military budget of India on its defense. 

It is now responsibility of some global powers to mediate and address the differences of the two nuclear power countries before small border skirmishes turn into a wider military conflagration. 



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