Tensions along the disputed India-China border appear to be escalating, three months after their deadliest confrontation in decades.
The Asian giants accused themselves this week of sending troops into the other’s territory, and for the first time in 45 years fired warning shots, raising the specter of full-scale military conflict.
Their foreign ministers are expected to discuss the dispute in Moscow yesterday on the sidelines of a regional meeting on security and the economy.
Indian military vehicles are moving on a highway leading to Ladakh on Wednesday as tensions rise on the border with China
The high opposition along the eastern section of the so-called Line of De facto Control – free demarcation – risks drastically changing the already strained relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
The clash began in early May with a fierce battle before erupting in hand-to-hand combat with sticks, stones and fists on June 15, killing 20 Indian soldiers. China is believed to have made casualties, but did not give any figures.
India and China have inherited their territorial disputes from the period of British colonial rule.
Three years after India’s independence in 1947 and one year after the Communists came to power in China, the new government in Beijing has begun to assert its claims and reject earlier treaties, which it said were signed under duress but which according to India they are fixed.
Beijing’s approach has intensified under Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, who has vowed not to give up an inch of territory.
Indian security personnel on alert after shots fired for the first time this week
At least 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel, were killed in June during a massive border brawl
In the 1950s, China began building a strategic route on the uninhabited Aksai Qin Plateau to connect its troubled regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. India objected and claimed Aksai Qin as part of Ladakh, which itself belonged to the former Kashmir principality, now divided between India and Pakistan.
Relations were further strained after India allowed Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to establish a self-proclaimed government in exile in the northern Indian city of Dharmsala after he fled his homeland in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese government.
The differences led to a fierce one-month war in 1962. Fires broke out again in 1967 and 1975, resulting in more deaths on both sides. They have since adopted protocols, including an agreement not to use firearms, but those protocols broke in this year’s clashes.
China, meanwhile, has begun cementing its relationship with India’s archival Pakistan and supporting it on the Kashmir issue.
The confrontation at high altitude along the eastern section of the so-called Line of De facto Control – free delimitation – risks drastically changing the already implemented connection.
The fierce LAC divides China-India-controlled territories from Ladakh in the west to the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims is entirely. It is broken in parts where the Himalayan states in Nepal and Bhutan border China.
According to India, the de facto border is 3,488 kilometers (2,167 miles) long, although China is encouraging a significantly shorter figure. As its name suggests, it divides the areas of physical control, not territorial claims.
In total, China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in northeastern India, including Arunachal Pradesh with a predominantly Buddhist population.
India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory on the Aksai Qin Plateau, which India considers part of Ladakh, where the current confrontation is taking place.
Despite more than three dozen rounds of talks over the years and numerous meetings between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, they are nowhere near settling their dispute.
After the 1962 war, both economies grew significantly, but China far surpassed India, while enjoying a large trade surplus with its neighbors.
The fierce LAC divides China-India-controlled territories from Ladakh in the west to the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims is entirely
Growing economic rivalry has added to territorial and geostrategic differences. India has tried to take advantage of China’s rising labor costs and deteriorating ties with the United States and Europe to become a new base for foreign producers.
India has worried after China recently built a road through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir as part of the signing of Xi’s foreign policy, the multibillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative, which India vehemently opposed.
Meanwhile, India’s growing strategic alliance with the United States has fluttered its wings in Beijing, which sees relations as a counterweight to China’s rise. India’s fears of Chinese territorial expansion are supported by the growing presence of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean and Beijing’s efforts to strengthen ties not only with Pakistan but also with Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Armed with spears: Chinese troops near disputed Himalayan border with India this week, where shooting is banned, but soldiers will fight in a deadly hand-to-hand fight in June
India is joking about strategic parity with China, massively expanding its military infrastructure along the LAC.
In addition to tensions, India unilaterally declared Ladakh federal territory and separated it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019, ending its semi-autonomous status.
Shortly afterwards, lawmakers in India’s ruling party began advocating for control of some areas ruled by China, alerting Beijing.
Border tensions persist despite talks at the military, diplomatic and political levels. With strong nationalists leading both sides, the border has gained notoriety for years.
The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) C-17 Globemaster transport plane flies over a mountain range in Leh in the Ladakh region on September 8. Both India and China say they have been fired at the disputed border from below, with further escalation of military tensions between nuclear-armed states.
After emerging relatively unscathed from the COVID-19 pandemic, China is also seen on a regional scale as boosting military ambitions against its neighbors, especially through the use of “slicing salami” tactics to gradually gain territory.
As Chinese troops remain in Indian territory in Ladakh, India occupied at least one unmanned mountain peak last week, prompting Beijing to fiercely demand that New Delhi liberate the area.
Experts warn that if hostilities are not stopped, war could be next.
“If diplomacy fails, the weapons speak.” This is the natural culmination of what we have witnessed over the last four months, “said Lieutenant General DS Hood, who was Chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Ministry of Defense from 2014 to 2016.” Things get out of hand quickly, unless there is a break in the conversation.
Wang Lian’s international relations department at Peking University considers the possibility of a wider conflict less likely, although both sides are preparing.
“China has shown restraint in bilateral relations with India, and in the future India may refrain from overdoing it,” Wang said.