There is a long history of tension and conflict on the Sino-Indian border. Certain areas along the 3,800-kilometer-long frontier have been in dispute for decades, and in some spots even longer. In the past half-century, standoffs and skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops have occurred from time to time. Agreements were signed between New Delhi and Beijing to ensure peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and promises were made to resolve the contentious border issues. Not surprisingly, none of these promises would ever bear fruit. The significance of the LAC issues ebbed and flowed with the shifts in global priorities and the international order over the years. The best that could be said was that for the past forty years there were no deadly clashes in the border area.
That streak came to an inglorious end in June, 2020 when Chinese and Indian troops met in the Galwan River valley. No small arms were used, the confrontation was, instead, a melee with swords, sticks, and rocks used as the primary weapons. When it ended 20 Indian and 43 Chinese soldiers were dead and the situation along the Sino-Indian border appeared to be in danger of escalating into a major military confrontation between the two Asian powers. Over the summer, and into the autumn months tension remained high. There was dialogue between the governments and militaries, but no firm de-escalation, and disengagement measures came about. Force buildups continued, as well as provocative troop movements in and around the LAC.
The border area is stable at the moment. Winter fast approaching in the Himalayas and will hamper military operations and movement to a large degree, but this does not guarantee that the winter season will be a quiet one. There are many new facets to the current Sino-Indian crisis that were not present in the past, such as the nuclear element, as well as India’s role as the US counterweight to China. These two facets contribute to making the stakes of this Sino-Indian crisis substantially high.
I have much to say on the Sino-Indian situation, and on their relations in general. As a result, one entry, no matter how detailed, is not going to suffice. So, expect another two entries on the Sino-Indian Crisis in the coming week. If Tuesday weren’t Election Day here in the US I would wrap it up by then. Unfortunately, this won’t be possible so I will post Part II on Monday, and Part III next Thursday.
India’s military has confirmed it has a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier in custody today after the soldier crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries. The crossing was apparently an accident and India is not suspecting any untoward motives. Incidents like this happen occasionally and there is a system of procedures in place to deal with them. A statement released by the Indian military essentially confirmed that the system is working in this case. “As per established protocols, he will be returned back to Chinese officials at the Chushul–Moldo meeting point after completion of formalities.”
This comes as the standoff between India and China along their shared border approaches its sixth month. Although both nations continue to keep thousands of troops supported by artillery, armor, and combat aircraft in close proximity to the frontier, the region has been relatively quiet in recent weeks. After shots were fired along the LAC in September China and India appear to have both made a sincere effort to deescalate tensions along the border.
Another reason for the area becoming less tense is that winter is fast approaching. Ladakh is a cold desert region in the Himalayas that sees temperatures plummet to -50 degrees Fahrenheit on occasion. China’s window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Soon the weather will make sustained military operations improbable until the spring. This doesn’t mean the lull will continue on over the winter months for certain though. As we have seen in the past six months, it does not take much to heighten tensions between India and China in this area. Given what is going on in the world at the present time, more clashes over the winter cannot be ruled out.
The foreign ministers of India and China met in Moscow today as a sidebar to the ongoing Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Moscow. India’s senior diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met for two-and-a-half hours as both sides attempt to calm the situation after hostilities flared up earlier in the week along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Monday’s standoff along the south bank of Pangong Tso Lake is responsible for bringing tensions to a near-boil. Chinese troops armed with spears and rifles approached Indian forward outposts and attempted to spark a physical fight. During the standoff shots were fired, the first time in 45 years that firearms have been discharged along the LAC. Just who fired the shots is unknown. China claims it was Indian troops who fired shots after ‘crossing the LAC.’ Predictably, India blames Chinese troops for firing the shots when they were forced to retreat.
Up to the time of the meeting today, Indian and Chinese military activity along the LAC continued. Indian troops occupied the heights that overlook Chinese positions at Finger 4. Taking control of the high ground, always an advantage in land warfare, is doubly advantageous in the rugged, mountain terrain of the LAC. Meanwhile, Indian and Chinese brigade-level commanders held ‘interactions’ in Eastern Ladakh. The purpose is to keep the lines of communications open even in the midst of a flareup.
So, diplomats and army officers from both sides continue to deliberate, and hold discussions. At the same time, military units continue to maneuver on the ground. The question is whether or not China will continue its strategy of subtle territorial pecks along the LAC. The potential for an armed conflict remains relatively high in the area even as both sides profess their desire to settle the crisis through diplomatic means.
The disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating India and China was the scene of a flare over the weekend and into today. The area of contention is Pangong Tso Lake, which has traditionally been considered to be inside of Indian territory. On Saturday night the Chinese attempted to land troops on the southern bank of the lake, prompting a buildup of Indian troops, and a standoff. So far, the confrontation has not turned physical. Troops from both sides stood in close proximity and yelling at each other. There have been no reports of injuries. The Indian Defense Ministry described the incident in a statement released earlier today, saying the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had “violated the previous consensus” and “carried out provocative military movements” near Pangong Tso Lake, in the remote Ladakh region.
China claims it has done nothing wrong. A representative from the PLA’s Western Theater Command accused the Indian military of a “blatant provocation” and wrecking the agreement both sides had reached over illegal incursions in the area. The officer demanded that India withdraw its forces and maintain control of its frontline troops.
Although this incident was nowhere near as deadly clash that occurred in June between Indian and Chinese troops along the same area of the LAC, it is disconcerting. A considerable amount of diplomatic effort has gone into calming tensions and establishing a sincere dialogue between the Indian and Chinese militaries. However, this latest flareup shows us that the LAC area remains a point of contention. It also leads to questions about how much influence China’s internal troubles are having on Beijing’s recent moves abroad.
That is a subject worth exploring more later this week. 😊
The fourth round of corps-level commander negotiations between Indian and Chinese general officers took place on Tuesday. The talks turned into something of a marathon, lasting almost ten hours as both sides worked to finalize the groundwork for a “time-bound and verifiable” disengagement away from all of the potential flashpoint areas in eastern Ladakh. The day’s focus was set on withdrawing large numbers of troops, and weapons from bases along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). China has moved troops 1-2 kilometers away from Pangong Tso and Hot Springs in recent weeks, but the numbers involved has been limited, and the act deemed as purely a symbolic act intended to appear meaningful. Still, India is now looking for a further pullback to 8 kilometers to beyond the Finger 8 point where the LAC runs north to south.
During today’s negotiations, India has insisted on complete restoration of the status quo ante along the border prior to the beginning of the standoff on 5 May. It is unclear if progress was made on this matter, however, it is unlikely that any. Agreeing to India’s demand would negate practically all of China’s efforts since early in May. As the situation stands for the moment, Chinese troops remain encamped on Indian territory. The Indians have made no attempt to remove them by force, opting for diplomacy, and controlled sabre rattling to reestablish the pre-May frontier.
Meanwhile, as India and China work to disengage, the United States is ramping up pressure on China over its actions in the South China Sea. That will be discussed tomorrow.