India-China Border Dispute
A History of Fraught Relations
The shared history between India and China is one that extends back to the formation of these states vis-a-vis the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and India’s independence in 1947. India-China relations were very encouraging at the beginning with India going so far as to argue for a permanent seat for the People's Republic of China on the UN Security Council. Furthermore, India recognised China’s sovereignty over the region of Tibet and also established various commercial and trade links with its neighbour. Nehru visited Beijing and Zhou Enlai visited India in 1954, and the importance of “Panchsheel” or the five reasons for co-existence between the two neighbours was laid out. India and China also saw eye to eye on matters of global concern and these warm relations between the two nations gave rise to the popular slogan “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” or India and China are comrades or brothers.
However, there were some simmering tensions mainly related to the McMahon line drawn by the British and imposed on Tibet but it was never accepted by the Chinese. They did not recognise the McMahon line which demarcated the area between Tibet and North-east regions of India. Moreover, there remained the contentious issue of Aksai Chin which India staked claim to and things came to a head in 1958 when the Indians were made aware of a highway connecting Xinjiang and Tibet. The Indians considered Tibet a natural buffer zone between the two powers in the region and were not comfortable with China invading Tibet in 1950. In 1959 when the Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa and took refuge in India, the Chinese were outraged and were determined to make India pay for this slight. Nehru’s Forward Policy wherein India erected outposts in areas claimed by the Chinese and began initiating aggressive patrols was the last straw. Soon there were violent skirmishes that took place and in 1962 war broke out between the two countries.
The Sino-Indian War and Its Effect Today
The war broke out in Eastern Ladakh and the North-East Frontier Agency or NEFA. The war was preceded by violent clashes at Longju and Kongka La in 1959. The new forward policy was initiated and the Chinese mirrored our actions with their forward policy in line with their “armed coexistence” stance. India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) was quite certain that the Chinese would not resort to decisive military action on a large scale and as such India set up several such posts along the LAC or Line of Actual Control which was considered as an intrusion from the Chinese point of view as they violated 1959 Claim Line. On October 20, 1962, China initiated a large-scale military offensive against the perceived violations of its Claim Line. The Indian forces were spread thin in the Eastern Ladakh front and were unable to stave off the Chinese forces who infiltrated and removed the possibility of planned withdrawals of the Indian troops. The Daulat Beg Oldie sector that was manned by approximately 62 Indian troops suffered grievous losses and 40 troops were martyred on that fateful day. Another 20 Indian soldiers were taken as POW (Prisoner of War). Similarly, in the Galwan River valley, the Indian post was close to Samzungling and had cut off the path to three PLA posts. The Chinese had besieged this post since July of 1962. Despite a company of 5 JAT that was posted in the areas, the Chinese attacked with overwhelming force and 36 Indian soldiers were killed while another 32 were taken as POW. Similarly, Sirijap 1 and Sirijap 2 which is North of Pangong Tso saw intense fighting and although the Indian troops inflicted heavy costs on the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) with 21 of their troops killed in action, both posts were captured by the Chinese. It is important to note that in all areas where the fighting took place, the Chinese never advanced beyond the 1959 Claim Line. After securing Pangong Tso, the Chinese consolidated their forces and regrouped to storm the Indus Valley Sector. By the 28th of October, 1962 their objective was accomplished and the area up to the 1959 Claim Line was secured.
The goal of the Chinese was simple. It was to teach India a swift and decisive “lesson”. Furthermore, the Chinese used the victory to show India and the world that the territorial integrity of China and its hold over Tibet could not be challenged by any nation-state. Militarily, the PLA imposed a crushing defeat on the Indian army to try and crush the morale of the Indian troops. The areas in Eastern Ladakh that were attacked in 1962 are the same areas that are seeing intrusions today as well. The Chinese opine that the Indians are once again staking claim to land that is not their own and building infrastructure on the Chinese perceived 1959 Claim Line.
The India-China Border Conflict in 2020
India has claimed that there were several intrusions by the PLA in May 2020 especially in the Western sector of LAC (Line of Actual Control) or the Ladakh region and the area witnesses the most transgressions along the LAC. The troops are engaged in a standoff at Pangong Tso, Daulat Beg Oldie, Galwan Valley and Demchok. There are also reported intrusions by the Chinese in the Eastern sector of the LAC or Nathu La in Sikkim. The standoff has triggered fierce patrolling and build-up of infrastructure on both sides. It is seen as an attempt by Beijing to change the status quo and take advantage of an Indian side that is currently grappling with several domestic issues such as COVID-19 and its economic crisis.
The May 2020 standoff was followed by intense fighting on the 6th of June in the Galwan Valley. It is reported that in the backdrop of talks wherein both parties agreed to de-escalate and withdraw their troops, the Chinese were not honouring their side of the deal. In an unfortunate event, wherein a Colonel of the Indian Army went to enquire about why a tent and an observation post was still erected, he was manhandled by the Chinese leading to the confrontation. Even though the Indian troops were outnumbered they fought valiantly. The sudden change of the status quo by the Chinese is attributed to India’s decision to reinforce its infrastructure at the border vis-a-vis the DSDBO road or the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road which is expected to help troops reach areas adjoining Aksai Chin as well as Chip Chap river and Jiwan Nalla much faster. Additionally, India has been building a road in the Galwan valley to connect the region with an airstrip.
This article has been authored by Donovan Nazareth, a learner at K.C. Law College Mumbai.