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An Unprecedented India-China Stand-Off – OpEd

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China’s deployment of troops is a part of its containment policy against India? Does China’s move towards Galwan Valley strengthen its BRI projects and vice versa? Where does the CPEC stand? I intend to address these three questions in this article.

Never ending blame game over border conflicts in South Asia between China and India or between India and Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. But the face-off on June 15, between New Delhi and Beijing left 20 Indian soldiers dead happened in Glwan Valley is the deadliest between India and China since they skirmished at Nathu La in 1967. The militaries of both emerging powers, India and China, have been arguing for decades over territory in the high-altitude, largely uninhabited region -3,440km/ 2,100-mile shared border called Line of Actual Control. The world’s most populous countries faced an unprecedented border standoff, started on May 5, 2020. Since 1962 India-China war, face-off like current is less common and their troops have been patrolling this region for decades. It is also the first time since 1975 that soldiers have lost their lives in clashes along the LAC.

New Delhi used its diplomatic sources and appropriate military channels to lessen the tensions as the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was unable to reinvigorate nationalistic discuses at home as soldiers on the borders were dying. As an official policy, Chinese don’t speak much on the subjects related to the national society so the claims made by the officials in India could not be independently verified. However, the fact remains that New Delhi apparently made all attempts to deescalate the situation.

Line of Actual Control (LAC) is complex which includes Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake and Hot Spring area. The Ladakh region is especially complex, with particularly unusual features. Aksai Chin, a territory that India has long claimed but China occupies it. India also claims another 5,180 sq. km of land in Kashmir that Pakistan had ceded to China in 1963.

Face-off happened in Galwan Valley in the disputed Ladakh region. China accused Indian troops of crossing the border twice, “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel”. The Indian side refuted the reports and blamed the ‘other’ side for violating the set border rules.

Why have tensions escalated now?

The predominant reason exists explaining why these escalations started? Some analysts believe that India’s inauguration of the 255km (158-mile) Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road, built along the LAC, last year, is a bitter pill to swallow for China, therefore China came to confrontation with India. They argue that considering the said development as a threat to its interests in the region.

It is important to clarify that this road can just serve as an instrument or tool for China to monitor India’s logistical supplies in this region or can help in the war time. This whole stand-off may not

be based on the sole construction of DSDBO rather China has much more motivations behind its maneuver. So this reason is insufficient. China was unhappy with India’s actions in August 2019 to end Jammu and Kashmir’s traditional autonomy the abrogation of Article 370, one result of which was the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh ( Laddakh is disputed area between China and India).. Ladakh region is administered by India as a union territory, and constituting a part of the larger region of Kashmir, which has been the subject of dispute between India, Pakistan, and China since 1947. 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. So, China is securing its corridors under its BRI mega development project by countering India’s unilateral moves in the disputed territories.

It is pertinent to discuss here that CPEC, a flagship project of/under China’s mega Belt and Road Initiative, has remained a bitter pill to swallow for India as it considers the CPEC route passes through the disputed area of Kashmir. Analyzing through the prism of BRI, China considers the Ladakh region crucial for its “access to Central Asia and CPEC project with Pakistan in which they [China] have intended to invest billions of dollars [about $60bn] to reach the western markets.”

Since China has launched its flagship project CPEC, India has been continuously opposing this development project providing various reasons. India’s stance on CPEC was backed by the US too. Development should not be hindered in the disputed areas mainly inhabitant areas. India’s stance may be insufficient on CPEC.

The development does not depend upon the “disputed areas” rather on the economic cooperation where China Pakistan and India can cooperate with each other which would pave the ways for the resolution of Kashmir issue.

One major factor behind India’s perceived sense of insecurity related to CPEC can be traced to the mega project’s potential for uplifting the masses living in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir from the evils of poverty and illiteracy, this is unacceptable to India as this hopeful situation presents a Pakistan’s stark contrast to the situation in Indian occupied Kashmir, where the occupation forces have unleashed a reign of terror against innocent Kashmiris for committing the ‘sin’ of demanding legitimate socio-political rights.

Moreover, India’s unilateral move towards the abrogation of Article 370 is mere India’ projection of power and could change the security situation of South Asia. China’s maneuverings to contain Modi’s unilateral take on Ladakh may justify its actions on this stand- off. Therefore, China’s deployment of troops may be the part of its containment policy to restrain India’s hegemonic ambitions in the south Asian region rather than the regular military dispute. Both sides accuse each other for provocation.

These border disputes may not be resolved any soon neither between India and Pakistan nor between China and India without the support of international community mainly the US and the UN. Therefore, all agreements regarding the border management must be respected by every country. Here, one more aspect needs to be addressed that the US inclination towards India is one of the contributory factor of India’s moves to show its military muscles in the region whether to Pakistan or any other country. The US wants to Contain China’s expansion and India needs US support to contain China as well as to be superior than Pakistan. In this whole equation of India-US-China-Pakistan, the strategic stability of South Asia is well counterbalanced with China-Pakistan strategic partnership against Indo-US alliance in this region. CPEC is the latest contour of this partnership which is a bone of contention for India and Us.

Last but not the least, the current India-China military stand-off, the global dynamics are different because of the pandemic (Covid-19) resulting in severe economic crises in developing countries including India. Many analysts have compared India’s and China’s defense budget and military power to prove that India is relatively less than China and will compromise with China.

But the contemporary situation is distinguishing one of the most important elements of power that is the power to manage the natural calamities (floods, famines, pandemics etc.) sustaining the economic situation. The whole world has witnessed China’s management and preparedness to meet the vicious challenge of Covid-19. So analysis only through the comparison of military power and budgets of both countries may not determine the capability of any country in such situations. China’s efforts and economic sustainability during the lockdown shows its potential of being more stable and rising power.

*Asia Maqsood is an independent writer/researcher. She has a degree of M. Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and  Masters in International Relations from the same Institute.  She has also done a workshop on Nuclear Safety, Security and Safeguards from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, US. She frequently writes on China Pakistan affairs, CPEC, South Asia’s Regional Issues which have been published in various national, international blogs and newspapers. She can be reached at [email protected]

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