Colonel B S Nagial (Retd)
Civilisation’s well-being depends upon its ability to respond successfully to challenges, both human and environmental. Compared to the Chinese, the Indian state of affair was different for ages, for there was little or no impulse to create heartland and then protect it against all attacks from the borders. India could attain the political character under the British occupation. However, things changed after India attained its independence.
Boundaries are the focal point of the empirical concern for politicians, administrators, and military leaders. It would be difficult for these people to separate themselves from the development at the borders. A boundary can influence the landscape, the development and policies of the state and human behaviour. It affects the behaviours of the nation and especially the people residing in the borderland.
The Himalayas were both the frontier of ingress and egress but acted as a barrier formidable against any large-scale invasion until China’s betrayal in 1962. With Tibet in the north, the interaction was primarily one of the religious doctrines and their practice.
The McMahon Line, which was ‘provisional and experimental’, provides India with a much easier border to defend than the boundaries along the foothills. North of Brahmaputra plains. China’s claim to the Tawang belt in Arunachal Pardesh is not vital to the Chinese state’s existence, and the dispute is more ideological than geographical significance for China. However, China has illegally occupied Aksai Chin since 1962. The essence of all negotiations is to maximise advantage and minimise ambiguities.
The ongoing Galwan Valley What is the issue?
The Indian and Chinese armies are engaged in the standoff in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie in eastern Ladakh.A sizable number of Chinese Army personnel even transgressed into the Indian side of the de-facto border in several areas, including Pangong Tso.The actions on the northern bank of Pangong Tso are not just for territorial gains on land but enhanced domination of the resource-rich lake.The standoff at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley has escalated due to the infrastructure projects that India has undertaken in recent years. India is building a strategic road through the Galwan Valley – close to China – connecting the region to an airstrip.China is opposed to any Indian construction in the area. In 1962, a standoff in the Galwan area was one of the biggest flashpoints of the Indo-China war1962.
The Line of Actual Control(LAC) is not demarcated, and China and India have differing ideas of where it should be located, leading to regular border “transgressions.” These do not escalate tensions; a serious border standoff like the current one is less frequent, though this is the fourth since 2013.Both countries’ troops have patrolled this region for decades, as the contested 2,200-mile border is a long-standing subject of competing claims and tensions, including a brief war in 1962. The LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it only around 2,000 km.The India-China LAC in Ladakh is an outcome of the territory illegally retained by China after the 1962 conflict. Historical or legal documents do not support the Chinese occupation of parts of Aksai Chin.
Possible Reasons Behind Increased China’s Borders Deployment.
Beijing has fashioned a geostrategic approach to the region that seeks to secure its national interests. South Asian countries, therefore, will have to deeply consider the long-term implications of China’s growing presence and activities in their region. The point which must be understood is that India’s security is seriously threatened by the Chinese presence on the Himalayans frontier. The possible reasons could be summarised as under:
* India’s decision to strengthen its border infrastructure Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road.
* India’s tilt toward US(QUAD) amid US-China tensions.China undoubtedly wants to prevent India from getting any closer to the United States.
* China views India’s assertions regarding Gilgit-Baltistan as an implicit attack on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China’s flagship programme.
* China’s growing assertiveness over the South-China Sea.
* Political and economic tensions within China due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its mishandling. The outbreak of the virus was not reported in the initial stage.
* India is a growing power in the Asian region and domination in the Indian Ocean region.
* Beijing has also been frustrated with India’s decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its unique status and bifurcation in two UTs(Ladhak and J&K)in Sept 2020, China voiced concerns about Jammu and Kashmir at the United Nations on behalf of Pakistan, only to more recently dial-back its approach to focus on resolving the issue through encouraging India-Pakistan dialogue.
What is the way forward?
The border conflict impacted the quality of our ties since 1962.Indeed, the three mutuals- mutual respect, mutual sensitivity, and mutual interests are determining factors. Any expectation that they can be ignored and that life can carry on uninterrupted, notwithstanding the situation at the border, is far away from reality. Furthermore, past experiences taught us the importance of stabilising our relationship even while adjusting to changes. From that, we can seek proper guidance that will be beneficial to both nations. First of all, agreements previously reached must be followed in letter and spirit. Secondly, while handling the border areas, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) must be stringently discerned and held in high regard.
No attempt should be undertaken to change it unilaterally, and the status quo should be maintained. Thirdly, peace and tranquillity in the border areas are the foundation for evolving relations in other fields. If they are disturbed, so inevitably will the rest of the relationship.Fourthly, while India and China are devoted to multi-polar world order, a multi-polar Asia is one of its essential ingredients. Fifthly, each state will have its interests, concerns, and priorities; but understanding them cannot be a one-sided affair. Relations between significant states are reciprocal. Sixthly, as rising powers, each will have its own set of ambitions, and their quests cannot be overlooked. Seventhly, there will always be discrepancies and variances, but their management is crucial to our mutual ties. Furthermore, civilisational states like India and China must always take the long term view.
History cannot be distorted, and heroes cannot be forgotten. To guarantee the security of the Himalayas effectively, greater autonomy to the Tibetan people must be restored sooner than later. This should be the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy toward China. We must remember that Tibet is on our border and forcible occupation by the Chinese bring Indo- China into confrontation. China may continue to hold Tibet under its heels for another decade or so; ultimately, world conscience will rise to help the people of Tibet get their fundamental human rights. And India has greater role to play in this movement.
Colonel B S Nagial (Retd)