Context: A greater capability by India to patrol up to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) coupled with an increasingly assertive Chinese posture is fuelling new tensions along the border, according to former senior Indian officials.
- India has been upgrading its infrastructure along the border, thereby allowing troops to patrol with greater depth and frequency into areas where the Chinese had advantage.
- People’s Liberation Army was “tightening control” in one of the flashpoints in Galwan Valley in the western sector, after it accused India of “unilaterally” changing the status quo by “illegal construction”.
- A build-up has also been reported in Demchok in Ladakh.
- Separately, troops from both sides were involved in fisticuffs that led to injuries following stand-off incidents on May 5 near the Pangong Tso lake in Eastern Ladakh and on May 9 in Naku La in North Sikkim.
Border dispute between India & China
Aksai Chin & Arunachal Pradesh issue: Both nations claim both regions although China controls the former and India the latter.
Deadlock in border talks:
- The 21st round of border talks were held between Mr. Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor and Mr. Wang Yi.
- India’s point: India doesn't want to negotiate one common line, but negotiate a line that Chinese don’t cross, and another line that India doesn't cross.
- Recently, India tried to persuade the Chinese leadership to restart discussions on the clarification of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) through the exchange of maps.
- China’s point: Clarifying perceptions of the LAC could help, but China has stalled the process as they are afraid the LAC will become the boundary.
- Instead, China asked for a comprehensive ‘code of conduct’ for the forces deployed along the border. This mismatch in desired outcomes was the main obstacle in the recent border talks.
Why is India reluctant to consider a ‘code of conduct’?
- The Chinese proposal is aimed at limiting India’s military and infrastructure modernisation, and thereby enabling China to preserve its military advantage in Tibet.
Possible reasons behind skirmishes
- These incidents were more likely fuelled by the on-the-ground dynamic than other geopolitical factors or tensions, such as India’s tightening of FDI from China or the COVID-19 pandemic.
- India’s border road development: By December 2022, all 61 strategic roads along the border, spread across Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, will be completed, adding up to 3,417 km in length.
- India is seeking to restore a balance, to the extent that it is possible given enduring advantages of terrain and logistics on the Chinese side, by creating road and air connectivity to the LAC.
Protocols for troops to handle such incidents
- According to the 2005 protocol on modalities for implementing confidence-building measures, neither “shall use force or threaten to use force” and “both sides shall treat each other with courtesy and refrain from any provocative actions”.
- The 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement said patrols “shall not follow or tail patrols of the other side in areas where there is no common understanding” of the LAC.
- It called for both sides to “exercise maximum self-restraint, refrain from any provocative actions, not use force or threaten to use force against the other side” in face-offs.
China is way ahead of India in military capabilities so all out ‘hard halancing’ on the border will not be correct. Use of soft power is recommended.