A major military conflict has infused in the heart of Asia. And this conflict may affect neighboring countries or the whole region. From the strategic view point, the area is much significant for both the countries. China has control of the Aksai Chen and east of Ladakh region and wants to build a road to connect its province Xinjiang and Western Tibet. It is a tri-junction between Bhutan, China and India. India has been objecting to China building a road in the region. Both China and India have been patrolling the area from time to time.
Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a rough demarcation of line which separates China controlled territory from Indian controlled territory. The exact area particularly Western Ladakh has remained a disputed zone. Both the sides have established their claims to the territory by militarizing the zone. Both the countries have built airstrips, roads, outpost stations, telephone lines and other infrastructure. The troops of both the side conduct patrolling their side regularly. China claims more than 90,000 km2 in Eastern Himalayan region and 38,000 km2 in the West Himalayas, both of which are disputed by India. The area is a high altitude and sparsely populated, borders Tibet, the home of Buddhist and destination of tourism where the situation is hostile.
India also needs a new route to the mountainous region of Kailash for less time and better travel facilities for Hindu pilgrims. It was also learned that, in November 2019, a new map published by India showed these areas as part of India. Meanwhile, India repealed Article 370 of the Constitution, after which Kashmir and Ladakh lost their former status.
On May 23, media reported that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had relocated 5,000 troops to the Himalayan border running along with Ladakh area of Kashmir. This is not a new development; it is first fatal clash since 1975 and most serious since 1967. The area always remained tense since June 2017 when Indian troops crossed the border and effectively attacked neighboring Bhutan where Chinese roads were being built. During the hostility an Indian officer pushed and fell in to the river Gorge. Then hundreds of troop from both the sides were called and fought with club and rocks.
It is very interesting that, India has now started such interference against Nepal. India unilaterally opened the road between Dharchola in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and Leplikh in Nepal. The road passes through the disputed Kalapani area and was inaugurated on May 8, 2020 by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. Nepal claims Lipoluk as its territory. The land belt of northwestern Nepal is connected to India and China. According to the Nepalese Foreign Ministry, after the end of the Anglo-Nepalese War, all areas east of the Mahakali River, including Lampiadhora, Kalapani and Leplikh, are part of Nepal under the 1816 Sagiuli Treaty.
Nepal has proposed India to resolve the black water issue, but India did not reply. In an immediate response to the Indian action, Nepal published its new political and administrative maps of the country on May 20, 2020, showing Leplikh, Kalapani and Lampiadhora as part of Nepal. Now this controversy has also given a new dimension to cartography. On the same day, the official spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, said: “The Government of Nepal released a revised official map of Nepal, which includes parts of the Indian mainland”.
The seriousness of China’s aims can be perceived from the satellite pictures, the significant changes has made at Ningari Ginsa Airport, just 200 kilometers from Lake Pengong. These changes took place over a six-week period, with the airport being expanded and new hangars being opened. J-11 and J-16 fighter jets can also be seen in pictures coming in early May. In addition, on May 25, China declared that it was beginning to repatriate its citizens from India. The announcement was made under the guise of measures to combat the corona virus, although the situation in Ladakh is a clear political one.
Chinese troops have entered in the five areas of Ladakh. Four of them are along the Galwan River and fifth is near Pengong Lake. This is the first time since the Kargil war between India and Pakistan when foreign troops have invaded in disputed territory. During the Kargil war Pakistan had withdrawn its troops because of United States pressure. Now the situation is more critical because Washington did not demonstrate it concerns as it had shown in past. Therefore, the conflict has enormous geopolitical consequent upon the regional states and for the world as well.
China and India are populous states of the world and are nuclear powers too. Both the governments have strong nationalist appearances and their armies have national status markers and pride. The loss of lives during the hostility has made the situation more complicated. Both the sides are accusing each other of violation; it may be much harder to push forward to minimize escalation moves.
In the same times, both the countries have domestic challenges such as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Although China has controlled the spreading of Corona infection but hundreds of cases are reported in recent days. China has declined its economic relations with United State. On the other hand, India also has been suffering of Coronavirus with almost half million infected people despite of strict lockdown in the country. Indian economy is already falling down since the Coronavirus. India already has worst relations with Pakistan, unsettled border tension with Nepal, uneasy situation with Bangladesh and failure of Afghan strategy. The recent hostility with China is unfavorable for India.
The material balance between China and India is totally different. In 2018, Chinese GDP $13600 billion was five times more than India of $2700 billion. In the same way Beijing has consumed $261.1 billion on its security in 2019, which is more than Indian $71.1 billion. Although India has grown up itself as a major power and a large economy but in fact, it has declined as compare with China. Furthermore, India has made strategic partnership with Chinese rivals particularly with Japan and United States. On the other hand China has strengthened its northern border with Russia. In addition, it is weakening United States authority in East Asia through modernization of military and Maritimes capability. It is amazing that both the sides are escalating tension on Sino-Indian border. A miscalculation from both the sides may lead to beat of war drum.
The rising nationalism around the world and ongoing fragmentation on global trade also will be a test of China-India relationship. China thinks that India is a big challenge to its ambitions of supremacy of Asia. China has been shaping as a regional hegemon and has also been crafting a narrative about its position in the ring of international power distribution. If, People Republic China appears as super power in the region then Chinese and Indian rivalry may turn into new cold-war because India is also seeking dominance in Asia. United States are forging economic and defense relations with India and both India and United States seem as natural ally against China in Asia. On the other hand, China has been attempting to express that its real competition is with United States not with India. It is stated by strategic experts, “The United States no longer enjoys the same hegemonic status as it enjoyed few decades ago”. Its position as a leader of international order is eroding gradually. Its European allies are shrinking their dependency and are revising their policy with United States. Therefore, India will not put all eggs in one basket and it should handle all issues with China by diplomatic way.
However, Modi and Xi never afford the exceedingly complex and long-standing dispute. The clash may deteriorate their economic ties as well, as India is also a big market for Chinese products. The long-lasting clash may grow anti-Chinese sentiments in India with call of boycott of Chinese product. India also can restrict Chinese foreign direct investment. At the same time, China never affords to lose its relationship with India while it is already in trade war with United States during the Coronavirus epidemic. To avert the conflict both the sides should pursue multifaceted strategy including summit diplomacy and the plate form of regional and international institutions such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Asian Development Bank. These institutions can play a vital role to de-escalate of tension and forestall of border violence but cannot address their core issues. If the issue prevails for long time, it would be difficult for their regional neighbors to decide to go with China or India where both the countries are playing on their own strength. It should be handled by purely diplomatic way and with negotiations.