India-china standoff

By Renuka Nevgi-

India shares a border of 3488 km with China.[1] The Indian states contiguous to China are Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand Himachal Pradesh and the Union Territory of Ladakh.

The first major Sino-Indian Border dispute broke out in the year 1962 that led to a war between these two countries.

The tensions mainly arose due to the Tibetan issue, Dalai Lama’s reception in India, occupancy of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Dalai Lama fled to India in the year 1959. Thereafter, Chinese leader Mao Zedong averred that the Lhasa rebellion in Tibet was instigated by Indians.

Ladakh was invaded by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in October 1962. Simultaneously China cut the Indian telephone lines and also launched an attack from the rear end.

India had not anticipated this invasion, as a result of which, 10,000-20,000 Indian troops had to combat 80,000 Chinese troops. The war continued for a month after which China declared a ceasefire.[2] 

Arunachal Pradesh was granted statehood by India in 1986. Similar incursions by China were reported along the McMohan Line during the subsequent year.

The pastureland Skakjung adjoining to Ladakh was also encroached upon and occupied by the PLA gradually. Parts of this land namely Nagtsang, Nakung, Lungma-Serding were lost in 1984, 1991, and 1992 respectively.

An Indian report released in 2013 made a shocking revelation that India had lost an area of 640 sq km due to denial of access by PLA. [3] These past intrusions still continue to cast a long shadow on the diplomatic relations of India and China. 

Bilateral Agreements:

  1. Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet, 1890: British government’s protectorate over Sikkim was recognized in this agreement. The border of Sikkim and Tibet was defined as “the crest of the mountain ­range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its affluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet”. 
  2. Agreement between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China on trade and intercourse between Tibet region of China and India, 1954: This agreement is also known as Panchsheel agreement as 5 principles were agreed upon. They were (1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty (2) mutual non-aggression (3) mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, (4) equality and mutual benefit, and (5) peaceful co-existence. Owing to this treaty, the Indian military escorts stationed at Yatung and Gyantse in Tibet were withdrawn. Trade Agencies were established by both countries in each other’s territory. Regulations with regards to pilgrimages such as Banaras, Sarnath, Gaya, Sanchi as well as Kang Rimpoche (Kailas) and Mavern Tso (Manasarovar) were laid down.
  3. Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, 1993: It was stipulated that neither side should use or threaten to use force against the other by any means. A Joint Working Group composed of diplomats and military experts should resolve the border issue by the means of peaceful and friendly consultations. The two nations also agreed to reduce their military forces along the Line of Actual Control. Specified levels of military exercises could not be undertaken in the mutually identified zones along the LAC without prior permission from the counterpart. Air intrusions were particularly forbidden in this agreement.
  4. Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, 1996: Under Art 6(1), it was categorically agreed that “Neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers from the line of actual control.” It was also stated that if there is a need to conduct blast within 2 km of the LAC as a part of developmental activities, the other side should be informed through diplomatic channels or by convening a border personnel meeting, preferably five days in advance. Further, Art 6(4) of this Agreement reads as “If the border personnel of the two sides comes in a face-to-face situation due to differences on the alignment of the line of actual control or any other reason, they shall exercise self-restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid an escalation of the situation.”
  5. Protocol on Modalities for the Implementation of CBMs in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, 2005: It was decided that when the military exercise of more 15,000 troops is being conducted, the strategic direction of main force involved should not be towards the other side. An intimation should be given by convening a Flag meeting 15 days prior to any small military exercise (involving 5000 troops) in close proximity to the LAC. As per Art 4, throughout a face to face confrontation, both sides were obliged to refrain from any provocative actions, using or threatening to use force.
  6. Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, 2005: This Treaty was signed with the aim of qualitatively upgrading bilateral relationship between the two countries by taking into consideration principles of mutual and equal security. A well-defined and easily identifiable boundary was to concur with mutually acceptable adjustments. A package settlement was to be agreed upon after “taking into account inter alia, historical evidence, national sentiments, practical difficulties and reasonable concerns, sensitivities and the actual state of borders.” (Art.5) Along with the Joint Working Group and the Diplomatic and Military Expert Group, Special Representatives on the boundary question were also appointed for arriving at a consensus through earnest consultation.
  7. Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of India and the Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China for Exchanges and Cooperation in the field of Defence, 2006: The maintenance of frequent exchanges between the leaders and high-level functionaries of the Defence Ministries was asserted by both sides. An Annual Defence Dialogue was also to be hosted by each side alternatively. Apart from this, study tours and training programs in the fields of search and rescue, anti-piracy, counter-terrorism, and so on were also agreed to be conducted.
  8. Agreement on the establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India China Border Affairs, 2012: A Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs was established by the virtue of this treaty. This Mechanism was empowered to hold emergency consultations in order to address the issues arising in the border areas. It should also strengthen exchanges and explore possibilities of cooperation. However, this Mechanism was not permitted to discuss the resolution of the boundary question or affect the working of Special Representatives.
  9. Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Border Defence Cooperation, 2014: Art 8 of this Treaty stipulates “both sides shall exercise maximum self-restraint, refrain from any provocative actions, not use force or threaten to use force against the other side, treat each other with courtesy and prevent the exchange of fire or armed conflict.” It was also decided that the two sides shall jointly combat smuggling of arms, wildlife, wildlife articles, and other contrabands. The assistance should be provided to locate personnel, livestock means of transport, and aerial vehicles that may have crossed the border. Border Defence Cooperation was agreed to be implemented through Periodic meetings and Flag meetings.

Recent tussle:

In April 2013, 40 PLA soldiers set up their tents in Daulat Beg Oldi, Ladakh. It is located on a trade route that connects Ladakh to Xinjinang province in Western China. After 2 weeks of dialogue between the local commanders, this dispute was resolved.

A similar standoff took place in Chumar one month later which was again resolved in 21 days after China agreed to patrolling by Indian troops as before.

Another standoff took place in Demchak in the year 2014 when it was observed that heavy machinery was deployed by the PLA to build a roadway inside the Indian territory.

At that time, Chinese troops had withdrawn 20 days after the Indian External Affairs Minister met her Chinese counterpart. 

In 2017, Bhutan objected to the road construction work carried out by China in its disputed area, i.e. Doklam plateau. 24 rounds of talks were held between Bhutan and China but to no avail.

In the wake of Bhutan’s appeal to Indian forces, the troops reached the Doklam site and blocked the Chinese activity.

There was subsequent jostling between the soldiers of India and China. Due to international pressure, both the countries disengaged and withdrew their respective troops from Doklam after 70 days.[4]

India was constructing a road passing through Galwan valley in Ladakh connecting it to an airstrip. China was against this move.

The most recent scuffle took place in early May 2020 wherein a fistfight occurred between the personnel of these two nations in the region of Galwan valley.

Another confrontation between the two forces took place at several border points in the Himalayas a few days later.[5] Although no shots had been fired, the troops fiercely fought with each other using rocks, sharp objects, and wooden clubs, possibly wrapped in barbed wire or even studded with nails.[6] 

20 Indian troops died in this strife, whereas the casualties on the Chinese side are still unknown. Indian experts have also implied that China had bolstered the PLA with dump trucks, troop carriers, excavators, armored vehicles, and artillery. In one melee at Pangong Tso lake, the Indian troops were badly injured and consequently evacuated by a helicopter.[7] 

Probable ways of conflict resolution: 

Conflict not only involves the objective reality but also includes how both sides understand and feel about the situation. (Rubin et al 1994) The India-China conflict is not a mere quarrel; it has assumed the form of a destructive course.

The Deterrence Model of Conflict Resolution adopts a state-centric approach. It suggests that the government should use coercive mechanisms while dealing with obstacles posing threat to dominant political or economic interests.

Immediate results could be achieved through this model. Nevertheless, it fails to eliminate the real causes of conflict. (Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict 1994) This approach is advocated by many defense experts who contend that India should escalate the conflict if needed.

Strategic analysts have also stated that India’s strength has been bolstered and it enjoys many favorable positions in the valley.[8] 

The Indian government gave ‘complete freedom of action’ to Indian troops on 21st June 2020. This implies that Indian soldiers are empowered to use firearms.

It has been argued by analysts that the new approach goes against the bilateral treaties signed between these two nations.[9] 

The Galwan valley clash was discussed by the respective External Affairs Ministers earlier in June 2020. Both sides had agreed to ‘cool down the situation’.[10] However, it was conveyed during a meeting chaired by the Defence Minister that the forces have ‘been given free hand’ to assess and take requisite action. A defence source stated, “While we don’t want escalation but if it happens by the other side, appropriate action will be taken.”[11]

The process of conflict resolution should not be limited to averting the visible danger. (Weeks 1994). The root cause of this entire problem is the conjectural Line of Actual Control (LAC) which varies in the perception of both these countries.

No well-defined map of LAC acceptable to both the countries is available in the public domain. The maps were never formally exchanged between them.

The process of negotiations with regards to LAC has rather stalled since 2002. During the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to China in 2015, he had also sought clarification regarding LAC.

But, the proposal was rejected from China’s side.[12] As agreed by both the nations, the tense situation needs to be defused through negotiations and dialogue. It is instrumental to arrive at a consensus in respect of the definite demarcation of LAC. 

The Basic Needs Model of Conflict Resolution suggests that unfulfilled desires are the main causes of violence and conflict. These elements cannot be suppressed by threats or coercion.

There is a need to redefine the existing issues and assess the cost accrued due to their repression. (Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict 1994). Various methods of resolving this conflict peacefully are negotiation, adjudication, arbitration, et al.[13] 

Considering the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a military conflict would be detrimental to India’s developmental agenda. An efficient boundary policy is imperative for any nation to establish stability and peace.

The sovereignty of a State is locally embedded and the micro-level institutions at the borders can also adopt effective conflict-management measures to uphold the same.[14] As the greatest atrocities and human rights violations take place during a war, any further escalation of this conflict is undesirable for both the nations.

  [1] Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, International Land Border. Retrieved on 16th June 2020 from https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/BMIntro-1011.pdf

[2] India-China War of 1962: How it started and what happened later, India Today, New Delhi. (November 21, 2016 UPDATED: November 21, 2018 11:07 IST) Retrieved on 16th June 2020 from https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/india-china-war-of-1962-839077-2016-11-21

[3] P. Stobdan. As China intrudes across LAC, India must be alert to a larger strategic shift, The Indian Express. ( May 26, 2020 9:10:27 am) Retrieved on 16th June 2020 from https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-ladakh-warning-india-china-border-dispute-6427131/

[4]Prabhash K. Dutta. How India, China compromise: A look at how standoffs before Doklam were resolved, India Today. (August 31, 2017 18:05 IST) Available at https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/doklam-standoff-india-china-compromise-demchok-chumar-daulta-beg-oldi-1034861-2017-08-31

[5] Jeffrey Gettleman and Steven Lee Myers, China and India Brawl at 14,000 Feet Along the Border, The New York Times. (Published May 30, 2020. Updated June 18, 2020) Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/30/world/asia/indiachinaborder.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

[6]Jeffrey Gettleman, Hari Kumar and Sameer Yasir, Worst Clash in Decades on Disputed India-China Border Kills 20 Indian Troops, The New York Times. (Published June 16, 2020Updated June 17, 2020). Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/16/world/asia/indianchinaborderclash.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

[7]Russell Goldman, India-China Border Dispute: A Conflict Explained, The New York Times. (Published June 17, 2020 Updated June 18, 2020) Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/world/asia/india-china-border clashes.html

[8]Nitin Pai. How India can end Chinese transgressions: Take conflict to a place Beijing is worried about, The Print. (26 May, 2020 8:31 am IST) Retrieved from https://theprint.in/opinion/india-chinese-transgression-conflict-beijing-worried/429081/

[9]India retreats from deals with China: Global Times editorial, Global Times. (2020/6/22 21:38:40) Retrieved from https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1192452.shtml

[10]Kallol BhattacherjeeIndia to take part in meeting of RIC grouping, The Hindu. (JUNE 18, 2020 23:53 IST) Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indiatotakepartinmeetingofricgrouping/article31864247.ece

[11]Dinakar Peri. Ladakh face-off | Armed forces ‘given free hand’ to respond to situation at LAC, The Hindu. (JUNE 22, 2020 14:38 IST) Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/armed-forces-told-to-forcefully-deal-with-chinese-aggression-along-lac/article31881949.ece

[12]Sushant Singh. Line of Actual Control: Where it is located, and where India and China differ, The Indian Express. (June 18, 2020 8:42:11 am) Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/line-of-actual-control-where-it-is-located-and-where-india-and-china-differ-6436436/

[13]Shah, B. (2010). CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: THE INDO-CHINA CROSS BORDER DISPUTE IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH. The Indian Journal of Political Science,71(2), 599-611. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/42753721

[14]Ibid.

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