Sino-India rivalry & Future of South Asian Geopolitics

July 28, 2023

Sino-India border rivalry &
Future of South Asian Geopolitics

Introduction:

India & China are neighboring countries in Asia. Both of the countries have the largest population & military forces in the world. They also have nuclear weapons. India & China have one of the world’s longest disputed borders & areas which include 37,000 sq km of uninhabited Aksai Chin & Arunachal Pradesh with 1.4 million residents & over 84,000 sq km. 


The main reason of dispute between India & China is their border which is known as Line of Actual Control (LAC). The LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km. 


China and India currently have three sectors in their border disputes: the eastern (90,000 square kilometers in Arunachal), the middle (near Nepal), and the western (33,000 square kilometers in Aksai Chin/Ladakh). Both countries have engaged in confrontations but along the LAC they were not allowed to use firearms under the previous Rules of Engagement (RoE) between India and China that was signed in 1996 and 2005. 


The two sides had also agreed not to use any blasting or firearms within two kilometers of the LAC. However, the Indian Army has decided to change the rule after the violent clash at the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh that claimed the lives of 20 of its troops, including a Colonel rank officer.


Background of China-India Border Disputes:

The bone of contention between India & China is the McMahon Line, the frontier between Tibet and Assam in British India, negotiated between Tibet and Great Britain at the end of the Shimla Conference 1914 which is also internationally accepted as the border between India & China in the eastern sector.


 The McMahon Line is regarded by India as the legal national border, but China rejects the Simla Accord and the McMahon Line, contending that Tibet was not a sovereign state and therefore did not have the power to conclude treaties. Regarding this McMahon Line, China & India have got involved into confrontations. 


China India war 1962, Arunachal standoff, 73 days of standoff at Doklam & the ongoing border standoff in Ladakh are some of the major occurrences that sour the relation between India & China.


The Galwan crisis:

The latest crisis started on June 15 & it is claimed to be their deadliest encounter in over 45 years. According to Indian authority, the Chinese troops breached the LAC & set up Chinese tents & observation towers on the Indian side at Galwan valley which is in Ladakh. 


After this both sides have mobilized their forces escalating the border tensions. To de-escalate the tensions, Military commanders from both sides sit in a meeting on June 6. After this meeting, the Indian troops visited the area near a ridge to verify the Chinese assertion whether the Chinese troops had moved back from the LAC. 


The Chinese troops had thinned out, leaving behind two tents & small observation post, which the Indian party demolished. A large group of Chinese soldiers arrived & confronted the Indian troops using rocks, nail studded baton, iron rods etc. 


This confrontation claimed lives of 20 Indian soldiers leaving many wounded but China remains silent about its casualties, some sources said that China may have lost at least 40 soldiers. China has occupied the Galwan valley entering into 40 to 50 km of Indian border.


Reasons behind China-India border disputes:


1. The simplest explanation perhaps is that China is responding to India’s efforts to bolster border area infrastructure in Ladakh after the completion of the 255 km long Durbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road. 


It connects Leh to the Karakoram Pass dividing Ladakh from China’s Xinjiang province. Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) is 9 km away from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. The road runs parallel to the LAC & near Aksai Chin, Chip Chap River and Jiwan Nalla & will help India to deploy its troops faster. 


This road will give India much advantageous position in Galwan valley which China considers as a strategic threat. Also the western region of the DBO is where China abuts Pakistan in the Gilgit-Baltistan area & China is constructing a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the region. 


As this area is strategically important for China as well as India, both countries want to make sure their presence. In doing so, the ongoing crisis started.


2. Last year the Indian parliament annulled article 370 of Indian constitution. Article 370 which gave Jammu & Kashmir a special status of semi autonomy & other advantages. By annulling article 370, J&K was brought under central government of India. Ladakh is a part of J&K but China claims Ladakh as a part of Tibet which is very close to Xinjiang province. 


China has some internal issues regarding these areas & wants to take control over this region. China claims that India is providing shelter to many of its insurgents. After invading Tibet, India gave shelter to a Tibetian leader Dalai Lama who is also the head of Tibetian government in exile at Dharamshala in Himachal. 


China also wants to eliminate assistance given to the Uyghur Muslim ethnic community separatist movement. China fears that India sought to profit from the unrest in Tibet & Xinjiang.


3. The present state of relations between The USA & China is indicating another cold war like situation in world politics. The trade war, Corona virus pandemic, Hong Kong security law, arms selling to Taiwan, capturing the Huawei officials, naval patrolling in Asia pacific by the USA with its allies have deteriorated the USA china relations. 


The USA adopted a containment policy against China in Asia & with its allies has stepped up naval and air patrols over the South China sea and canceled joint exercises with Beijing, While the relation between The USA & India is getting closer day by day. 


Their strategic political relation was mainly established to decline Chinese influence in the South Asian region. Also India is a big buyer of the USA made weapons & participant to many US-led military alliances which are quite disturbing facts for China on the way to establish its dominance in Asia. By occupying Galwan valley in Ladakh, China is delivering a political message to India not to get too close to The USA.


4. The current situation at border is mostly seen as a continuation of China’s post-pandemic “assertive foreign policy” across the world and also as fallout of the overall souring of China-India ties in the recent past. China is extending its rein in south East Asia through increasing its military presence in South china sea. 


Through Chinese president Xi’s vision ‘Asia for Asians’ China wants to establish dominance in Asia. So the current crisis in Ladakh is a part of china’s authoritative policy as it is strategically important for China.


Reactions of neighborhood countries about China-India disputes:

Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka are strategically important for India & China. Both countries are trying to get closer to these countries. If we review the current situation in South Asia, China is in the most advantageous positions. Its economic aid & investments, duty free access of products for the south Asian countries in its market have made its neighbor closer than India. 


Also India’s dominating perspective towards its neighbors act as a catalyst to worsen its relations with its neighbors. It seems that Modi’s ‘Neighborhood first policy’ has failed.


Pakistan:

The history of the relations between Pakistan & India is full of confrontations. It is assumed that Pakistan is provoking China against India to occupy Ladakh & J&K regarding revocation of article 370. 


The recent incident of abducting two officials of Indian embassy in Pakistan & complains brought by both countries of espionage of the embassy officials have made their diplomatic relation worse. Both countries have expelled diplomats of their counterpart.


Nepal:

Nepal has objected to the Indian infrastructure of 80-kilometer stretch from Dharchula to Lipulekh. Through this road India has moved its frontier vis-a vis China, gaining direct access to the concrete highway in Purang county in Tibet, and has thereby changed the status quo in the region. 


The relation turned sour after Nepal’s national assembly passed the controversial bill on its updated political administrative map which includes parts of controversial territory, which India claims, escalating the border dispute. 


The New Map Amendment Bill (coat of arms) refers to an updated map which shows strategically important territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh & Limpiyadhura as territories of Nepal. The Nepal government is constructing a road from Darchula to Tinkar, also known Mahakali corridor near the India Nepal border in Uttarakand minimizing the dependence of Nepalese citizens on Indian roads.


Nepal has also mobilized its troops in the border & an Indian BSF soldier was killed by the Nepalese troops. Also in 2015, after two devastating earthquakes, India imposed a blockade on its border with Nepal which began on 23 September 2015, was an economic and humanitarian crisis severely affecting Nepal and its economy. This incident acted as a catalyst for souring Nepal India relations.


Bangladesh:

Bangladesh’s position in this tension is quite balanced as Bangladesh is trying to keep good terms with both of the countries. Bangladesh did not join China’s belt & road initiative on the request of India but on the other hand Bangladesh brought two submarines from China on which India expressed its concern. 


Amid this situation, China has granted duty free access of 5161 products which is 97% of Bangladeshi products exported to China. Bangladesh is strategically important for both, India & China as it is in the area of Bay of Bengal. China is a partner of Bangladesh on various development projects & also provides loans for infrastructure development in Bangladesh. 


On the contrary, India covers third-fourth of Bangladeshi frontiers. So now Bangladesh has to act tactfully for keeping good terms with its neighbors.


Bhutan:

Bhutan, India’s close ally, has stopped irrigation water to some farmers in Assam. But a recent deal between India & Bhutan has made Bhutan to be on the side of India. Recently during a virtual meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) early June, China raised objections to the grant issued for the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district. 


It borders India and China, and Beijing has now claimed that the location is disputed. Now it seems clear that Bhutan will remain a close ally of India.


Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka is also a strategic point for both, China & India. China is a strategic investment partner to Sri. India’s controversial role during Sri Lankan 30 year long civil war made India-Sri Lanka relation less friendly & Sri Lanka leased Hambantota port to China for 99 yrs. So it is clear that Sri Lanka is under the influence of China.


Latest update of china-India disputes:

The recent satellite photos show that China has entered more than 423 meters into Galwan valley of Indian side & set up at least 16 tents & a camp & at least 14 cars are marked. Both countries are mobilizing their forces. India is busy to prop up the support of anti Chinese super power including Russia also. 


India is getting defensive instruments worth of $100 crore from its Western allies France, Isreal & the USA. On the contrary, China reinforced its troops near the Indian border with mountain climbers & martial arts fighters. 


At least five new militia divisions including former members of a Mount Everest Olympic torch relay team & fighters from a mixed martial arts club presented themselves for inspection aat Lhasa on June 15. A 3rd meeting between two countries at military level is going be held to ease the situation.


Future of South Asian Geopolitics

China after the Doklam crisis in 2017, considers India as the toughest regional competitor or the biggest threat in the region to China’s rise. China mainly concerned at the ongoing situation for the Indian construction of roads & air strips in the Galwan valley which will provide better access to Karakoram highway close to the LAC by India. 


China termed this as aggressive & provocative & considers Indian road building as an attempt to stab it in the back while China is trying to ease its deteriorated relations with the USA due to the Covid-19 pandemic. China has changed its policy towards India when the Indian government annulled article 370 of the constitution that revoked the semi autonomous status of Jammu & Kashmir in which Ladakh is also included. 


The reason behind this situation is to spread geo political influence over this region by China. Although forces of both countries are standing face to face & a war like situation exists but there is no probability of war. As both countries is fighting against Covid-19 pandemic & trying to cope up with the economic crisis due to the pandemic. 


So right now they are not in a state to afford any direct war. Also both of the countries are partners of BRICS & Shanghai Cooperation Organization.


Conclusion:

The recent fist fighting brawl between India & china that also is going on amid a tense pinch for the Asian other than world people as both countries massively populated with atomic power race who are along with enriched in extremely developed weapons to face one another in the midst of covid 19 pandemic, also both of them are acutely gripped in many other internal crisis other than dealing with Corona virus & domestic troubles. 


Both of the countries are trying to reach a solution by holding meetings. Their rivalry is affecting the neighborhood countries. Although, there is no possibility of war, there remains a tense situation what will happen next. In both sides, people are asking their respective goals for avoiding war.


IR Insights

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