Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

The road from Galwan, a year later

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China relations after Galwan valley clash

What happened in Galwan?

  • 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 stand-off at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley has escalated in June 2020 due to the infrastructure projects that India has undertaken in the 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 stand-off in the Galwan area was one of the biggest flashpoints of the 1962 war.
  • The border, or Line of Actual Control, is not demarcated, and China and India have differing ideas of where it should be located, leading to regular border “transgressions.” Often these don’t 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.
  • Reasons: The violent clash happened when the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the LAC and attempted to unilaterally change the status quo.
    • It is part of China’s ‘nibble and negotiate policy’. Their aim is to ensure that India does not build infrastructure along the LAC. It is their way of attaining a political goal with military might, while gaining more territory in the process.

The current situation in Ladakh

  •  With a continued deployment of 50,000-60,000 soldiers, the Indian Army has been able to hold the line to prevent any further ingress by the PLA.
  • There has been no progress in talks after the disengagement at Pangong lake and Kailash range in February.
  • Outside of Ladakh, the Indian Army remains in an alert mode all along the LAC to prevent any Chinese misadventure but the bigger change has been its reorientation of certain forces from Pakistan border towards the China border.
  • The Ladakh crisis has also exposed India’s military weakness to tackle a collusive threat from China and Pakistan.

External balancing

  • To deal with the threat of combined China and Pakistan, the Government opened backchannel talks with Pakistan which led to the reiteration of the ceasefire on the Line of Control.
  • The Ladakh crisis has also led the Government to relook external partnerships, particularly with the United States.
  • The U.S. military officials have earlier spoken of the intelligence and logistics support provided to the Indian forces in Ladakh.
  • The military importance of the Quad remains moot, with India reportedly refusing to do joint naval patrolling with the U.S. in the South China Sea, the two treaty allies of the U.S., Japan and Australia, also refused.

Challenges for India

  • India attempts to counter the growing Chinese influence in the neighbourhood have faltered, exacerbated by the mishandling of the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • With the widening power gap between New Delhi and Beijing, the challenge is as much economic as it is geopolitical.
  • Despite the border crisis and the Indian restrictions on Chinese technology companies, China displaced the U.S. to be India’s biggest trade partner in 2020-21, up to nearly 13% of India’s total trade compared to 10.4% a year ago.
  • For the past few decades, Indian planners operated on the premise that their diplomats will be able to manage the Chinese problem without it developing into a full-blown military crisis.
  • Militarily, Chinese incursions in Ladakh have shown that the idea of deterrence has failed.
  • India has learnt that it can no longer have simultaneous competition and cooperation with China.
  • A new reset in bilateral ties, àla the early 1990s, is difficult because China is now in a different league, competing with the U.S.

Conclusion

The events of the past one year have significantly altered India’s thinking towards China. The relationship is at the crossroads now. The choices made will have a significant impact on the future of global geopolitics.

B2BASICS

Line of Actual Control

  • Demarcation Line: The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory.
  • LAC is different from the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan:
    • The LoC emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the United Nations (UN) after the Kashmir War.
    • It was designated as the LoC in 1972, following the Shimla Agreement between the two countries. It is delineated on a map signed by the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) of both armies and has the international sanctity of a legal agreement.
    • The LAC, in contrast, is only a concept – it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map or demarcated on the ground.
  • Length of the LAC: India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.
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