Sino-Indian update 24 June, 2020

India and China are in agreement that a speedy implementation of the disengagement and de-escalation measures agreed to by their senior military leaders is essential at this time. The joint stance does not signify an imminent scaling down of tensions in the ongoing standoff between India and China. It must be remembered that discussions between Indian and Chinese corps-level general officers took place before the 15 June clash, and similar measures were agreed to then. They did not prevent Chinese and Indian troops from engaging in a violent battle that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, and there is no guarantee the more recent agreements will prevent future incidents. Senior diplomats from both countries held a video conference today. The situation along the Indian-Chinese border was discussed, and both sides agreed to maintain communication at the diplomatic and military levels. They also reaffirmed the measures mentioned briefly above.

The lighting rounds of in-person discussions, and video conferences this week has not stopped the buildup of forces on both sides of the border. Chinese and Indian reinforcements continue to pour into the region, and construction of new outposts, and infrastructure is continuing. This reinforces the theory that while both India and China might be hopeful diplomatic measures can bring a viable solution to the crisis, neither side is banking on it.

There are growing discussions on Chinese President Xi’s motivation for sparking a crisis with China’s large neighbor to the south at this point. Some analysts speculate the move is part of a larger pattern of Chinese actions aimed at taking advantage of a distracted world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of my colleagues believe Xi’s reasoning has more to do with strengthening his diminishing grip on the People’s Republic of China. Personally, I suspect it has more to do with the former reasoning, yet nothing can be ruled out at this point. The potential for future clashes on the ground remain, and the crisis has yet to be decisively concluded.

Sino-Indian Update 20 June, 2020

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India has refuted China’s claim of sovereignty over the Galwan Valley. On Friday, China said the area is located on their side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The unprecedented formal claim drew an almost immediate response from the Indian government, with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stating that attempts by China to ‘advance exaggerated and untenable claims’ are unacceptable.  “The position with regard to the Galwan Valley area has been historically clear…They are not in accordance with China’s own position in the past,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava. India has also rejected China’s claim that India is attempting to unilaterally change the status quo.

 

With Sino-Indian ties at a new low, China is using economic diplomacy to entice Bangladesh, India’s neighbor and ally. Beijing has announced tariff exemptions for 97% of exports from Bangladesh. The move was evidently made as part of a larger effort by China to woo India’s neighbors away from potentially supporting New Delhi in the present border dispute. The effort is bringing about a moderate level of success that has caused the Indian government discomfort. Nepal has involved itself in the regional crisis for the first time by urging its ‘friendly neighbors’ to seek a peaceful resolution to their standoff. The statement was made today, less than forty-eight hours after the Nepalese parliament passed a controversial bill updating its political administrative map to include parts of Indian territory. The timing of the Nepalese vote is suspicious, to say the least. It likely came after heavy Chinese prodding behind the scenes and has the potential to complicate the border dispute for India.

 

Air activity over Ladakh is picking up, however there have been no cross-border incursions by Chinese aircraft. Indian Air Force (IAF) and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighters are maintaining combat air patrols over the area, and keeping warplanes on alert at airbases in the region. Both sides have reinforced their air assets. Additional warplanes have been seen at Ngari Airbase in Tibet, and at Leh and Srinagar on the Indian side of the LAC.

Bloody Clash In the Himalayas

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Indian and Chinese troops battled on Monday night in the same disputed border area these two nations fought a war over in 1962. Soldiers from the two ascendant, nuclear-armed Asian powers met brandishing rocks, and sticks. When the dust settled 20 Indian soldiers were dead, and according to Chinese state media 43 Chinese troops had died. It was the first fatal clash along the Line of Actual Control since 1975 and came after weeks of smaller incidents between Indian and Chinese forces at the border area. There is no independent confirmation on what brought about the skirmish but predictably Beijing is blaming India, and vice versa.

Following talks between Indian and Chinese general officers last week there was a feeling that the situation along the border was under control and could be managed until a diplomatic solution was found. Obviously, this is no longer the case. This clash was too large, and bloody to just sweep under the carpet and move forward. Lives were lost on both sides and even more significant to Beijing and New Delhi, national pride has been wounded. The fact that both Indian and Chinese leaders are nationalists will be a major factor in what comes next. Nationalism has been fueling Indian and Chinese policy moves at home and abroad to varying extents for some time.

This latest escalation has caught much of the world by surprise, myself included. The rest of the week’s posts will be dedicated to updates of the Himalayan crisis, and if time allows, a more in-depth analysis of what the near future could have in store.

Indo-Chinese Talks Bring Hope For a Peaceful Solution

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Saturday’s 7 hour long meeting held by Indian and Chinese military leaders appears to have been a step in the right direction for resolving the month-long confrontation between troops from the two nations along their common border high in the Himalayas. Both China and India have pledged to resolve territorial disputes through diplomatic and military channels. China did not discuss the talks once they ended, however, India’s Foreign Ministry released a statement with a more temperate tone than has been seen in recent weeks. “Both sides agreed to peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements and keeping in view the agreements between the leaders that peace and tranquility in the India-China border regions is essential for the overall development of bilateral relations.”

The series of confrontations that took place along the border in the past month brought on fears in India that a coordinated effort was being made by China to seize territory as the rest of the world was distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both nations reinforced their military units in the area, and according to numerous reports Chinese troops actually set up camps on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control.

Although Saturday’s meeting has produced a glimmer of optimism for the future, the dispute remains unresolved. More talks are expected in the coming days, and weeks, but for the moment the edge appears to have been taken off of Sino-Indian tensions in the Himalayas.

 

Author’s Note: The June DIRT project on China’s Perceptions of the World will begin next weekend. I mistakenly posted the start date for 6-7 June. Apologies.

Indo-Chinese General Officer Talks to Begin Saturday

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High level talks are set to begin Saturday between general officers of the People’s Liberation Army and the Indian Army as the month-long standoff between India and China continues in eastern Ladakh. The Indian contingent will be led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps. The Chinese representative will be the commander of the Tibet Military District Lieutenant General Xu Yong. The talks will be held at the Border Personnel Meeting Point at Maldo in Chushul sector of Eastern Ladakh at 8 AM Saturday.

Outside of India, and China there is growing optimism that the talks will pave the way to finding a solution to the standoff. However, the Indian and Chinese governments do not appear to be expecting firm resolution to come from the dialogue. After all, diplomatic discussions between Beijing and New Delhi have done nothing.  Do not be misled by the statements being made recently by Indian and Chinese officials stressing the need for a peaceful resolution to the standoff, and their disappointment about how it has affected bilateral ties. China and India are rivals even if both sides are reluctant to admit it.

Both sides insist that until a permanent solution is found for the boundary issue, it is necessary to maintain peace around the border areas. Neither side wants war to emerge from the standoff in eastern Ladakh yet neither side has seen fit to budge from their present position. There has been aggressive military posturing by both sides in the region. India and China are both moving heavy equipment, and weaponry to their bases near the area, intent to be militarily prepared if the tense standoff transforms into an armed conflict at any given time.