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No hope of border resolution between India and China

BY SEVEN STANDEN

Anyone interested in politics knows the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have a series of complicated relationships with the countries they share a border with: Taiwan, Japan, and Russia have all experienced aggressions at various points in history. Now, India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh has accused the PRC of “eroding the entire basis” of the two countries’ relationship, as the PRC attempt to control the 2,100-mile (3,500km) border between them. After coming close to war in 2020, negotiations between India and China have become increasingly tense, with the latter consistently pushing against boundary agreements. With no hopes of border resolution, the question is when the PRC (not if) will invade India.


The line of actual control (LAC) refers to the border between India and China, which was first established following the 1962 Sino-Indian War. However, LAC generally refers to the western sector with Ladakh on the Indian side and the Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions on the Chinese side. It was also the site of a deadly clash in 2020, with iron bars, rocks, and fists being used in the hand-to-hand combat: the conflict took place after Indian soldiers found troops from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the area of the Himalayas they had agreed to retreat from. Although it was the closest the countries had come to war in 70 years, both sides followed the tradition of fighting unarmed to prevent the conflict escalating into a nuclear war.


During the three years since the clash, there have been 18 rounds of military talks and no success in resolving border tensions. The PRC has continued to violate “existing agreements”, including attempts to transgress the border into Arunachal Pradesh in December 2022 and to rename 11 places in the same region. Currently, the PLA control 1,500 sq km in Ladakh: Deependra Singh Hooda, the Indian army’s former chief of the Northern Command, says India is now being denied “access to a fairly large area”. It’s been estimated India has lost 40% of patrolling points in the region of Ladakh, but the government maintains no territory has been lost.


In response, India is driving to invest in villages and infrastructure along the northern border to strengthen their presence on the ground. The Vibrant Villages Programme scheme will include investment in road and telecoms connectivity, drinking water, and power generation. Similarly, China’s xiaokang programme recently pushed for massive infrastructure developments in Tibet near the shared border, including the construction of military bases.


These decisions are inspired by the five principles of “peaceful coexistence” both countries agreed to in 2005, which included not disturbing “settled” areas. India may be able to better assert its claims to the land if they can prove citizens are settled there — however, harsh climate and the limited economic opportunities have made it difficult to attract residents. There has been a growing trend of people moving away from mountain villages to pursue better opportunities elsewhere, which will damage India’s attempts to create settlements.


Last week, China’s defence minister, Li Shangfu, landed in Delhi for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, marking the first visit from a defence minister since the 2020 conflict. Despite Singh’s accusation that “bilateral relations” have been eroded, Li insisted the situation was “generally stable” and sought to distance bilateral relations from the border dispute. There is little optimism the SCO summit will do anything to improve the situation.


During military talks which took place prior to the summit, Indian sources said “no mutually acceptable solution could be reached”. Similar to historical conflicts with other countries, China seems to have a completely incongruent view of the situation and how it has developed.


The ongoing border dispute with China may provide an incentive for India and the United States to rekindle their relationship, despite President Joe Biden previously emphasising the importance of human rights. Regarding India’s record of human’s right abuses, the Biden administration have decided to remain publicly quiet, according to senior US officials. This summer, Biden will also be hosting a state dinner in Washington with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. No doubt he intends to obtain India as an ally as US relations with China continue to decline rapidly.


It’s likely that Russia will decline to participate in the conflict, otherwise Vladimir Putin will risk losing one or both of the countries who support Russia in the Ukraine war.


Harpal Singh, who is head of the infrastructure project aiming to build an eight mile tunnel in Ladakh, has spoken about the importance of defending India from the “looming threat” of a Chinese invasion.


He said: “There is greater aggressiveness in patrolling. Physical clashes are taking place, soldiers are getting injured though no shots are being fired.”


“These local incidents could spiral out of control. That is the big worry.”


Image: Wikimedia Commons/Rajan.PITHVA

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