The recent deadly India-China border clash: Ashok Sharma suggests that the June incident in the Galwan Valley, by exposing China's geopolitical intent, has shattered India's illusions about China.

JurisdictionNew Zealand
Date01 September 2020
AuthorSharma, Ashok

The deadly clash in the Ladakh region's Galwan Valley on the Indo-Tibet border on the night of 15-16 June was the culmination of a more than month long build up in tension. The geopolitical temperature began rising when China claimed the Indian territory of the valley as its own. India responded by denouncing this unilateral attempt to alter the status quo as unfounded, unacceptable and unreasonable. Efforts to defuse the standoff through diplomatic and military channels finally resulted in the disengagement of the two sides. A dialogue between India's National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi resulted in China pulling back its military troops two kilometres from the Galwan Valley on 7 June.

The deadly clash eight days later is mainly attributed to the enduring India-China strategic rivalry and differing perceptions about the line of actual control on the Indo-China border. But the deadly clash on the line is due to a combination of factors ranging from challenges to Xi Jinping's leadership, China's desperate attempt to use the humanitarian crisis of the COVID-19 outbreak to achieve its geopolitical goal and great power politics at the global level, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.

Enduring conflict

The clash in Galwan Valley on 15 June 2020, fought on one of the most dangerous borders, followed almost six decades of conflict between India and China over the border issue dating back to the Sino-India War in 1962. However, the problem has even deeper roots. It can be traced to 1914. when China declined to accept the McMahon Line, the proposed border between British India and the autonomous region of Tibet. China also rejected Tibetan autonomy, hollowing the Second World War period India, now independent. sought a cordial relationship with China. However, despite India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai (Indian-Chinese brother-brother) pitch, Asian solidarity and India's support for the People's Republic's representation on the UN Security Council, China took a belligerent approach towards India.

The two Asian powers' relations began to deteriorate over the Tibet issue and the growing tension finally led to war in 1962. China dominated the fighting, killing a thousand Indian soldiers and capturing around 3000. About 800 Chinese soldiers lost their lives in this short conflict, in which China occupied some 45,000 square kilometres of Indian territory in the Himalayas. Five years later, in September and October 1967, another full-fledged Sino-Indian war broke out. India prevailed, destroying Chinese fortifications and pushing the Chinese troops back. About 340 Chinese and 150 Indians soldiers were killed. (1) Serious standoffs occurred in 1987 and 2013. The two sides were again brought to the verge of conflict during a 2017 standoff on the Doklam issue. India responded swiftly to a Chinese intrusion by marshalling around 40,000 troops along the border.

In recent years, the frequency of standoffs has increased because both countries have improved their infrastructure in the region, allowing easier movement of troops. Chinese troops have often violated the line of actual control, the loose demarcation of the India-China border, by patrolling on the Indian side. Indian forces have resisted these intrusions. These incidents arise from both differing perceptions of the 3488-kilometre-long border and the enduring strategic rivalry between the two countries. (2)

Casualties issue

Taken off-guard and outnumbered, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the 15-16 June clash in the Galwan Valley. With no firearms used, the deadly clash was primitive, the Chinese assailing the Indians with nail-studded iron rods and stones. Although China did not report any casualties, the ANI News and US intelligence reported Chinese casualties as 43 and 35 respectively. Although the Global Times, the Chinese state media, conceded that there were casualties on the Chinese side, it did not disclose the number to prevent tension intensifying. (3) The Chinese military confirmed just one casualty, a unit commander. There have been some reports of protest in China with deceased soldiers' families demanding acknowledgement of their martyrdom. This is not unusual. According to General V.K. Singh, the former chief of the Indian Army, the...

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