Authors: Dhanishta Mittal and Deepanshu Mittal*
According to the Charter of the United Nations (‘UN’), it is the obligation of states to refrain from any form of coercion against territorial sovereignty or territorial independence of another member state. Theoretically, all member States of the United Nations enjoy sovereign equality and are bound to comply with the international obligations as stipulated by the UN Charter. However, with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and neighbouring Asian countries, the play of power by economically stronger nations, having global influence is evident, leading to mistrust and scepticism surrounding the role of international law in maintenance of peace & order and prevention of war. With the Chinese aspiration to elevate itself as a global superpower, its actions have often been looked down upon, by countries as aggressive, unethical and contravening civil liberties and human rights norms.
In the recent past, India has witnessed Chinese encroachments, particularly in Naku La pass in Sikkim and at Pangong Tso Lake in The Himalayas. While the confrontation never escalated from a local conflict, one needs to understand the important military implications such acts can invite, particularly in light of the global apathy China faces, amidst allegations of its active role in spreading the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a worldwide health crisis.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF INDIA CHINA WAR OF 1962
The border disputes between India and China are majorly divided in two sectors. The Western Sector which comprises of Aksai Chin region in Jammu and Kashmir and the Eastern Sector which majorly covers the Mc Mahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh. In both these sectors, Chinese involvementsover the years have been a commonplace, often leading to localised conflicts along with nationwide tremors about the burgeoning Chinese intervention in the regions concerned.
The Mc Mahon Line serves as a part of Shimla Convention of 1914 where The British and Tibetan Representatives agreed to demarcate the Mc Mahon Line between India and Tibet. However, in 1949, during China’s Civil War, the then Government of China (‘Republic of China’) was replaced with People’s Republic of China (‘PRC’) whose leader was Mao Zedong. The PRC then annexed Tibet in 1950 to continue its territorial ambitions. While India initially extended support to PRC by recognising them as the official government of China, they condemned their actions, particularly when they Tibet. The Chinese retaliated by refusing to recognise the Shimla Convention and Mc Mahon Line since it was not signed by Chinese Representatives, rather by Tibetan Representatives, who now were captured by the Chinese troops. The Chinese believe that Arunachal Pradesh was not a part of India but a part of Tibet, and thus, now falls within the Chinese territory.
In the Western Sector, the disputes began in 1954 when India published maps in which it included controversial Aksai Chin region. However, the Indians witnessed that the Chinese military had already made its presence felt in parts of Jammu &Kashmirby building infrastructure such as roads and bridges in the regions by the Chinese troops. The tensions also escalated when China included Aksai Chin in their maps in 1958, contributing as one of the factors leading to the infamous India-China war of 1962.
Additionally, in 1959, there was an uprising in Tibet led by the Dalai Lama against PRC and their illegal encroachment in the sovereign territory of Tibet. However, Chinese military quashed the rebellion. India, during such an impediment, decided to accept the Tibetan refugees in the country, as a part of a humanitarian mission, and extended support to all refugees fleeing from Tibet. An amalgamation of these factors led to the war of 1962 where India faced defeat at the hands of Chinese forces. However, the Chinese declared a universal ceasefire and withdrew troops from all the regions that were captured and encroachedwith the exception of the Aksai Chin, because of its firm belief that the region officially belonged to China.
Multiple diplomatic measures were undertaken from 1980 to 2005 to improve ties between India and China. There were confidence building measures, interactions between the two-armed forces and the governments and joint military exercises at regional levels to improve relations. In 1988, India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China to improve ties which was the first major diplomatic effort to improve relations between the two neighbours. The 1988 visit could also be seen as a foundation for a 1993 visit by Narasimha Rao where an agreement was signed by the two nations to maintain peace and tranquillity at the Line of Actual Control, Aksai Chin border.
In the 21st century, when the two countries were the fastest growing economies of the world, maps were exchanged between the two countries to clarify borders and line of controls. Sikkim was recognised as a part of India by China during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China. A special representative mechanism was drafted to find out a political solution to resolve the border dispute. However, the diplomatic efforts failed to bear any fruits because of the persistent border disputes in the contested regions. There were numerous border encroachments in 2010 and 2011. The Doklam Dispute in 2017 also proved that that diplomatic efforts between India and China did not provide the results that were expected from the deliberations by various governmental leaders in the past.
THE STORY NOW
It can be argued that the two conflicts should be witnessed in isolation. With unclear demarcation of boundaries, the probability of encroachments increases and thus, the chances of disputes turning into a war is relatively low. However, there are a number of factors which force us to view the incidents as a part of a bigger Chinese Operation.
India’s expanding military capabilities at the Indo-China border are a threat to China’s military dominance. India currently has the world’s third largest military budget. The resources have been utilised to develop infrastructure and modernise arsenal and strengthen its position at the Indo China border, particularly because of hostility India faces by Pakistan and China. Historically, China has enjoyed a better position at the border because of its territorial advantage, infrastructure capabilities, logistical support and improved equipment. Thus, India’s development, militarily, economically and politically possesses a threat to Chinese dominance in the region.
China’s aggression in the Indian sub-continent along with its increasing military activities in the South China Sea is a part of its bigger project of regional dominance and demonstration of its power and global supremacy. The Chinese military has been crashing Vietnamese fishermen’s boats, targeting Indonesian fishing fleets and attempting to patrol near Malaysian waters. These activities are suggestive of increasing tensions between China and other Asian countries. China expects other Asian countries to benefit at its expense because of COVID-19 amidst allegations against it for lack of transparency in sharing the data with other countries about the pandemic. Numerous American, European and Japanese companies have already made agreements with other Asian countries to set up their manufacturing bases. Thus, the increasing military presence of Chinese is a mechanism to instil fear in the minds of entrepreneurs and to prevent them from relocating their industrial bases.
Taiwan is also a factor of China’s aggression towards India. Taiwan seeks recognition in WHO. And with India being the chair in World Health Assembly, China wants India to not validate Taiwan. Also, there is an increasing demand by the Western Countries for an independent probe to understand the outbreak of virus which China has refused to cooperate with, continuously. India is in a great position to use its powers to support Western Countries and take actions against China.
China’s ambition of becoming a global superpower is under threat. China’s massive growth has been its power for decades, especially with its title of being a global manufacturing hub. Being the manufacturer of products accounting for about 30% globally, it enjoyed diplomacy and attempted continued aggression, without legitimate sanctions for such international law abuses, majorly since international law is based majorly on the principle of consent and at the discretion of the permanent members of the Security Council (China being one of them). However, COVID-19 has resulted in a massive break on China’s economic dominance and global dependency for manufacturing of products.
India represents herself as a resilient force containing China’s dominance in the region, primarily because of its massive population and increased global co-operation. China is likely to lose its position as a global manufacturer to its neighbouring countries , particularly India and Vietnam thereby losing its power to control economies, dominate markets globally and expand itself in the region, demonstrating its influence and stronghold. With the Chinese intervention in Hong Kong, the constant debate surrounding Taiwanese statehood, Chinese dominance and swift expansion in the South China Sea, countries globally have consented to taking stringent measures against China and contain its expansion policy. Drastic steps can be thus, taken in desperation, particularly by China, in an attempt to exert its influence and demonstrate its strength over India, which also increases the possibility of a full-blown war in the region. Thus, it is important for the leaders, diplomats and citizens of India to understand the depth of such local conflicts and the potential of havoc it bears upon us. Deliberations and discussions have been initiated by the Modi government after noticing remarkable intrusions by China in the Aksai Chin region, alerting Indian military to a future war-like situation by the Chinese administration. Given that the UN Charter allows States to take feasible actions to protect its sovereignty, India’s actions of deploying more military forces in the region is but only a legitimate reaction to the Chinese act of intrusion.
*Deepanshu Mittal is a Chartered Accountant and a prospective MBA applicant. His interests include human rights, foreign policy, economics and finance.