Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

India-China Border Dispute: A Conflict that has been in the making for years

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nathu La and Cho La

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China border dispute

This article chronicles the border dispute between the two countries. It began in 1914 and ever after more than a hundred years it still continues. But the latest clash was the deadliest after 1967. Let’s go through past incidents over the border issue.

1914: A border China never agreed to

  • The conflict stretches back to at least 1914.
  • In 2014 representatives from Britain, the Republic of China and Tibet gathered in Simla to negotiate a treaty that would determine the status of Tibet and effectively settle the borders between China and British India.
  • The Chinese, unhappy at proposed terms that would have allowed Tibet to be autonomous and remain under Chinese control, refused to sign the deal.
  • But Britain and Tibet signed a treaty establishing what would be called the McMahon Line, named after a British colonial official, Henry McMahon, who proposed the border.
  • India maintains that the McMahon Line, a 550-mile frontier that extends through the Himalayas, is the official legal border between China and India.
  • But China has never accepted it.

1962: India-China War and origin of LAC

  •  Tensions rose throughout the 1950s.
  • The Chinese insisted that Tibet was never independent and could not have signed a treaty creating an international border.
  • There were several failed attempts at peaceful negotiation.
  • China sought to control critical roadways near its western frontier in Xinjiang.
  • India and its Western allies saw any attempts at Chinese incursion as part of a wider plot to export Maoist-style Communism across the region.
  • By 1962, war had broken out.
  • Chinese troops crossed the McMahon Line and took up positions deep in Indian territory, capturing mountain passes and towns.
  • By November China declared a cease-fire, unofficially redrawing the border near where Chinese troops had conquered territory.
  • It was the so-called Line of Actual Control.

1967: In Sikkim, India pushes China back

  • Tensions came to a head again in 1967 along two mountain passes, Nathu La and Cho La, that connected Sikkim — then a kingdom and a protectorate of India — and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.
  • A scuffle broke out when Indian troops began laying barbed wire along what they recognized as the border.
  • The scuffles soon escalated when a Chinese military unit began firing artillery shells at the Indians.
  • In the ensuing conflict, more than 150 Indians and 340 Chinese were killed.
  • The clashes in September and October 1967 in those passes would later be considered the second all-out war between China and India.
  • But India prevailed, destroying Chinese fortifications in Nathu La and pushing them farther back into their territory near Cho La.
  • The change in positions, however, meant that China and India each had different and conflicting ideas about the location of the Line of Actual Control.
  • The fighting was the last time that troops on either side would be killed. — until the skirmishes in the Galwan Valley on Tuesday.

1987: A crisis averted

  • In 1987, the Indian military was conducting a training operation to see how fast it could move troops to the border.
  • The large number of troops and material arriving next to Chinese outposts surprised Chinese commanders — who responded by advancing toward what they considered the Line of Actual Control.
  • Realizing the potential to inadvertently start a war, both India and China de-escalated, and a crisis was averted.

2013: Stand-off at Daulat Beg Oldi

  • After decades of patrolling the border, a Chinese platoon pitched a camp near Daulat Beg Oldi in April 2013.
  • The Indians soon followed, setting up their own base fewer than 1,000 feet away.
  • The camps were later fortified by troops and heavy equipment.
  • By May, the sides had agreed to dismantle both encampments, but disputes about the location of the Line of Actual Control persisted.

2017: Doklam Stand-off

  • In June 2017, the Chinese set to work building a road in the Doklam Plateau, an area of the Himalayas controlled not by India, but by its ally Bhutan.
  • Indian troops carrying weapons and operating bulldozers confronted the Chinese with the intention of destroying the road.
  • A standoff ensued, soldiers threw rocks at each other, and troops from both sides suffered injuries.
  • In August, the countries agreed to withdraw from the area, and China stopped construction on the road.

2020: Ladakh stand-off

  • In May, melees broke out several times.
  • In one clash at the glacial lake Pangong Tso, Indian troops were badly injured and had to be evacuated by helicopter.
  • China bolstered its forces with dump trucks, excavators, troop carriers, artillery and armored vehicles, Indian experts said.
  • What was clear was that it was the most serious series of clashes between the two sides since 2017 — and a harbinger of the deadly confrontation to come.

Consider the question “Examine the elements that make the border dispute between India and China difficult to resolve.”

Conclusion

Border dispute in two giants could easily escalate into a full-blown war. India has to recalibrate the policy approach after the recent clash and take steps that would prepare it for such an eventuality.

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