The Sino-Indian conflict: Instability in South Asia


The Sino-Indian boundary originated in 1834, with the conquest of Ladakh by the armies of Raja Gulab Singh under the suzerainty of the Sikh Empire. Gulab Singh and the Tibetans signed a Treaty in 1842 agreeing to stick to the old established frontiers later, the British defeated to Sikhs in 1846resulted in the transfer of the Jammu and Kashmir. China claims the Doklam area based on the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890, negotiated between the British Empire in India and the Chinese royal mission. The territorial boundary between Sikkim and Tibet was delineated in the Article I of the treaty. By 1892, the British settled on the policy that their preferred boundary for Kashmir was the “Indus watershed”. Later, The British government proposed Macartney-MacDonald Line in 1899 with China. In 1960, China claimed that Bhutan, Sikkim and Ladakh were part of the great motherland of China. However, China’s construction of this road was one of the triggers ofthe Sino-Indian War between China and India that occurred in 1962 and more than 2,000 people were killed. Finally,China abandoned all attempts of peaceful resolution on 20 October 1962, invading disputed territory along the 3,225 kilometre- (2,000 mile) long Himalayan borders in Ladakh and across the McMahon Line. The war ended when China declared a ceasefire on 20 November 1962, and simultaneously announced its withdrawal to its claimed “Line of Actual Control”. Therefore, the aim of this policy was to create outposts behind advancing Chinese troops to interdict their supplies, forcing them north of the disputed line. Then, Indian government passed the “Defense of India Act in December 1962” permitting the apprehension and detention in custody of any person suspected of being of hostile origin. Later. Bhutan and China agreed on border negotiation with India’s participation in 1972. However, China sought the exclusion of India due to its effect on Bhutan. Having turned down China’s package deal, in 2000, Bhutanese government put forward its original claim line of 1989. The talks could make no progress afterwards. The government reported that, in 2004, China started building roads in the border areas, leading to repeated protests by the Bhutanese government based on the 1998 Peace and Tranquility Agreement. India took foreign policy and defense affairs of Bhutan after 1949 treaty. In 2007, that treaty was superseded by a “new friendship treaty” that made it mandatory on Bhutan to take India’s guidance on foreign policy but providing it broader sovereignty in other matters such as arms imports.

Unlike previous border incidents in 2013 or 2014 China is simultaneously putting pressure on the LAC in multiple areas in the western sector. Border conflicts between China and India escalated in 2017, when Indian troops and the PLA staged their most serious confrontation, over China’s construction of a road in Doklam near a Donglang Caochang in Chinese territory. However, India does not have a claim on Doklam but it supports Bhutan’s claim on the territory on which India’s highly strategic Siliguri corridor. In June 2017 China attempted to extend a road on the Doklam plateau southwards near the Doka La pass and Indian troops moved in to prevent the Chinese.On June 29, 2017, Bhutan protested the Chinese construction of a road in the disputed territory. On the same day, China released a map depicting Doklam as part of China by the 1890 Britain-China Treaty. China claimed on 5 July 2017 that there was a “basic consensus” between China and Bhutan that Doklam belonged to China. The Bhutanese government in August 2017 denied that it had relinquished its claim to Doklam. On 28 August 2017, it was announced that India and China had mutually agreed to a speedy disengagement on the Doklam plateau bringing an end to the military face-off that lasted for close to three months. In the past decade, India has worked hard to strengthen its position on the border and its presence along the LAC to complete “DS-DBO road” in 2019, this greatly facilitates the lateral movement of Indian forces along this part of the western sector, reducing travel time by 40 percent the goal of this road construction, is to help India’s efforts to dominate the Line of Actual Control. India expects to complete a network of feeder roads to the LAC By 2022.

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India revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and impose direct federal rule, as well as increasing its counter-insurgency operations across Kashmir during the coronavirus lockdown, had put Beijing on high alert, as China’s only direct road link between Xinjiang and Tibet is in Aksai Chin. The Chinese side responded that it was paying close attention to the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir and reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a dispute left from history, and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements Kashmir and India’s changes to the administration of the disputed region. China was among the handful of countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the U.N. Security Council. China is highly concerned about Kashmir and promoted Pakistan’s request for the United Nations Security Council to discuss the issue. The Indian government has insisted the matter is purely an internal affair and decision has no impact on China.

On May 5, a scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese troops at the Pangong Tso lake in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. Chinese moves, especially around Galwan, appear designed to prevent India from completing these road projects, India is changing the LAC status quo, even if India sees its moves as an attempt to consolidate the status quo along the LAC. Meanwhile, The Indian government told the country’s parliament last month that there had been 1,025 instances of Chinese troops transgressing into Indian territory between 2016 and 2018. After the Special Representatives (SR) met on December 21, 2019 both sides issued statements to say they had resolved to intensify efforts in boundary negotiations to arrive at a fair solution and build mutual trust to continue boosting bilateral ties.

China’s military strategy, the disputed border is a “secondary strategic direction.” By maintaining stability along the Indian border, China is focusing its military power toward the “main strategic direction” on Taiwan and the Western Pacific. On the other hand, China is fighting against India on cyberwarfare and electronic warfare. Therefore, China always wants to keep the status quo, Beijing realizes that India is not China’s real enemy despite the United States’ attempts to bring India into its Indo-Pacific strategy to counter a rising China. The U.S is China’s main rival, not India, India is supported on defense and security ties with the US has resulted in further suspicion from Beijing. That the U.S has rallied around India would have clearly inspired confidence in the Indian camp that there was likely to be more global support for its case against China. last month, U.S. President Donald Trump offered to help resolve growing border tensions between India and China. On that, India denied the mediation of US on border tension with China. Then, Trump wants to expand G7 into a G11 or G12 that includes India. The idea of G7 expansion carries geopolitical calculation with an obvious to attempt to contain China.

China generally seeks to maintain stability in the border dispute with India. China could be using the excuse of construction activity to put pressure on India for completely different political or economic objectives. Resolving the current India-China dispute is not high on the agenda of the Chinese government and there is no urgency to change the status quo through military means. But, China is currently facing strategic pressure from the US, trying to restore its economy after the Covid-19 outbreak, and attend to problems in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chinese army carries out large scale drill to check preparedness at border with India. If Beijing fears other nations may view China as weak or distracted by the coronavirus and the economic aftershocks, the Chinese leadership may feel it has to take a hard line against any potential challenge to Chinese sovereignty. If the outbreak of war between China and India, the whole South Asian region willface worse implications such as disastrousness through war. 

Abbas Ali Bughio
Abbas Ali Bughio
The writer has passed M.Sc. from National Institute of Pakistan Studies (NIPS), Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.


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