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2020 China–India skirmishes

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2020 China–India skirmishes
Part of the Sino-Indian border dispute
Kashmir Region (2020 skirmish locations).jpg
A CIA map of Kashmir with red circles marking the rough locations of the conflicts near the Galwan Valley (top), the Hot Springs checkpoint (middle), and Pangong Tso (bottom).
Date5 May 2020 (2020-05-05) – present (70 days)
Location
Line of Actual Control (LAC), Sino-Indian border
Belligerents
 India  China
Commanders and leaders

Ram Nath Kovind
(President of India)
Narendra Modi
(Prime Minister of India)
Rajnath Singh (Defence Minister of India)
Gen Bipin Rawat
(Chief of Defence Staff)
Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane
(Chief of the Army Staff)
ACM Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria
(Chief of the Air Staff)
Lt Gen Yogesh Kumar Joshi
(GOC-in-C, Northern Command)
AM Balakrishnan Suresh
(AOC-in-C, Western Air Command)
Lt Gen Harinder Singh
(GOC, XIV Corps)[1]
Maj Gen Abhijit Bapat
(GOC, 3rd Infantry Division)[2]
Air Cdre. Subroto Kundu
(AOC Leh)[3]
Col Vijay Rana (WIA)[4]
(C.O. 11 Mahar Regiment)

Col Santosh Babu  [5]
(C.O. 16 Bihar Regiment)

Xi Jinping
(CPC General Secretary, President and CMC chairman)[a]
Li Keqiang
(Premier of China)
Gen. Wei Fenghe
(Minister of National Defense)
Air Force Gen. Xu Qiliang
(CMC vice-chairman)
Gen. Zhang Youxia
(CMC vice-chairman)
Gen. Li Zuocheng
(Chief of the CMC Joint Staff)
Gen. Han Weiguo
(Commander, PLA Ground Force)
Air Force Gen. Ding Laihang
(Commander, PLA Air Force)
Gen. Zhao Zongqi
(Commander, PLA Western Theater Command)[7]
Air Force Lt. Gen. Wang Qiang
(Deputy Commander, PLA Western Theater Command and Commander, PLA Air Force Western Theater Command)[7]
Lt. Gen. Xu Qiling
(Commander, PLA Ground Force Western Theater Command)[7]

Maj. Gen. Liu Lin
(Commander, PLA Ground Force South Xinjiang Military District)[7][1]
Units involved

Indian Armed Forces

Indo-Tibetan Border Police

 People's Liberation Army

Casualties and losses

On 15 June:
20 killed[8][9]
76 injured (18 serious, 58 minor injuries)[10]
10 captured (released on 18 June)[11][10][12][13]
On 10 May:

4 injured[14]

Indian sources:
On 15 June:
43 casualties[15][16]
Unconfirmed captured (later released)[17]
On 10 May:
7 injured[18]
Other sources:
On 15 June:

35 killed (per U.S. Intelligence, as reported by U.S. News & World Report)[19]

The 2020 China–India skirmishes are part of an ongoing military standoff between China and India. Since 5 May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops have reportedly engaged in aggressive melee, face-offs and skirmishes at locations along the Sino-Indian border, including near the disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and near the border between Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Additional clashes are ongoing at locations in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that has persisted since the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

In late May, Chinese forces objected to Indian road construction in the Galwan River valley.[20][21] According to Indian sources, melee fighting on 15/16 June 2020 resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers (including an officer)[22] and 43 Chinese soldiers (including an officer).[b][24][16][25] Several news outlets stated that 10 Indian soldiers, including 4 officers, were taken captive and then released by the Chinese on 18 June.[9] An unconfirmed number of Chinese soldiers were also captured and later released by India.[17]

Amid the standoff, India reinforced the region with 12,000 additional workers, who would assist India's Border Roads Organisation in completing the development of Indian infrastructure along the Sino-Indian border.[26][27][28] Experts have postulated that the standoffs are Chinese pre-emptive measures in responding to the Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road infrastructure project in Ladakh.[29] The Chinese have also extensively developed their infrastructure in these disputed border regions.[30][31] Another reason is China's territory grabbing technique, also referred to as 'salami slicing', which involves encroaching upon small parts of enemy territory over a large period of time.[32][33] The revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, in August 2019, by the Indian government has also troubled the Chinese.[34] However, India and China have both maintained that there are enough bilateral mechanisms to resolve the situation through quiet diplomacy.[35][36]

Following the Galwan Valley skirmish on 15 June, numerous Indian government officials said that border tensions will not impact trade between India and China despite some Indian campaigns about boycotting Chinese products.[37][38] However, in the following days, various types of action were taken on the economic front including cancellation and additional scrutiny of certain contracts with Chinese firms, and calls were also made to stop the entry of the Chinese into strategic markets in India such as the telecom sector.[39][40][41]

Background

The border between China and India is disputed at multiple locations. There is "no publicly available map depicting the Indian version of the LAC," and the Survey of India maps are the only evidence of the official border for India.[42] The Chinese version of the LAC mostly consists of claims in the Ladakh region, but China also claims Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India.[42]

Since the 1980s, there have been over 20 rounds of talks between the two countries related to these border issues.[43] A study by the Observer Research Foundation found that only 1 to 2 percent of border incidents between 2010 and 2014 had received any form of media coverage.[43][44] In 2019, India reported over 660 LAC violations and 108 aerial violations by the People's Liberation Army which were significantly higher than the number of incidents in 2018.[45] Despite the disputes, skirmishes, and standoffs, no incidence of gunshots being fired has been reported between the two countries along the border for over 50 years.[46]

During Xi Jinping's[6] visit to New Delhi in September 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the boundary question and urged his counterpart for a solution.[47] However, in 2017, China and India got into a major standoff in Doklam that lasted 73 days.[48][49] China has since increased its military presence in the Tibetan Plateau;[50] and also stationed fighter jets at the Ngari Gunsa Airport, which is 200 kilometres (124 mi) from Pangong Tso, Ladakh.[50][30] China has also been increasing its footprint with India's neighbours – Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan; so from India having a monopoly in the region, China is now posing a direct challenge to New Delhi's influence in South Asia.[51]

Causes

The disputed territory of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is administered by Pakistan (green), India (blue) and China (yellow).

Multiple reasons have been cited as the trigger for these skirmishes. One reason stated by observers is Chinese land grabbing involving encroaching upon small parts of enemy territory over a large period, a tactic also referred to as salami slicing.[32][33] In mid-June 2020, Bharatiya Janata Party councillor Urgain Chodon from Nyoma, Ladakh, stated that successive Indian governments (including the current Narendra Modi government) have neglected the border areas for decades and turned a 'blind-eye' to Chinese land grabbing in the region. According to her India has failed miserably in the protection of its borders, and even in 2020, all along the LAC, India has lost land. Her family had also lost grazing land to the Chinese in Koyal in 2018.[52][53] Other local Ladakhi leaders have also acknowledged similar incursions by the Chinese in the region.[54]

MIT professor, Taylor Fravel, said that the skirmishes were a response from China to the development of Indian infrastructure in Ladakh, particularly the Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road. He added that it was a show of strength for China amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which had damaged the Chinese economy and its international reputation.[55] According to Yun Sun, a China specialist at the Stimson Center, such road building amounted to "stabbing China on the back" in their view. China sees it as a threat to its "territorial integrity", which it will not sacrifice for the sake of good relations with India.[56]

Lobsang Sangay, President of the Tibetan-government-in-exile, stated that China is raising border issues due to internal problems within China and the international pressure being exerted on China over COVID-19.[57][58] Jayadeva Ranade, President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy and former National Security Advisory Board member, posited that China's current aggression in the region is to protects it's assets and future plans in Ladakh and adjoining regions such as the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor; as such Chinese troops are not going to withdraw.[59]

Wang Shida of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations linked the current border tensions to India's decision to abrogate Article 370 and change the status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.[34] Although, Pravin Sawhney agreed with Wang, he postulated that a parliamentary speech by Amit Shah also could have irked the Chinese. In the speech, Shah had declared that Aksai Chin, a disputed region administered by China, was part of the Indian administered Ladakh Union Territory.[60] Furthermore, the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 prompted multiple senior Bharatiya Janata Party ministers, most recently in May 2020, to claim that all that now remained was for India to regain Gilgit-Baltistan.[61] Indian diplomat Gautam Bambawale also stated that New Delhi's moves in August 2019 related to Jammu and Kashmir irked Beijing.[61] In 2014, Rajnath Singh, the then Home Minister of India, the Defence Minister during the 2020 skirmishes, had said that 'China has illegally occupied Aksai Chin in Ladakh'.[62]

Other analysts linked the skirmishes as a response to India's growing alliance with the United States. Liu Zongyi, a South Asia specialist at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies told the Financial Times that "India has been active in many of US plans that target China". Tanvi Madan, author of Fateful Triangle (a book about the international relations between the US, India and China) stated that India thought that this was "signal from Beijing" to "limit" its relations with the US.[63] Phunchok Stobdan, a former diplomat of India, stated that "smaller powers like India and Australia, who have aligned with the U.S., are witnessing a more aggressive China".[64]

India's former ambassador to China, Ashok Kantha said that these skirmishes were part of a growing Chinese assertiveness in both the Indo-China border and the South China sea.[55] Retired Indian Army Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain said that the skirmishes were post–COVID strategic messages from China to its neighbours which would make India prioritize the Himalayan sector over the maritime Indian Ocean region, a more vulnerable area for the Chinese.[65] Raja Mohan, Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, writes that the growing power imbalance between China and India is the main cause of the dispute, with everything else such as the location of the dispute or international ties of India, being mere detail.[66] These skirmishes have also been linked by multiple people with the Chinese strategy of Five Fingers of Tibet.[67][68][69][70]

Incidents

There have been simultaneous efforts by China to occupy land at multiple locations along the Sino-Indian border. Standoffs and skirmishes have taken place at Pangong Tso, Hot Springs, Galwan Valley and Depsang in Ladakh; and in Sikkim as well.[71] Amid de-escalatory talks in Ladakh, on 29 June 2020, China, opened a new front in the border dispute by claiming, for the first time, that Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the disputed territory of Bhutan's Trashigang District.[c][72][73]

Pangong Tso

Part of Pangong Tso/Bangong Co with the Chinese (pink) and Indian (red) claims. The area in the middle is disputed.[d] Khurnak Fort and Sirijap campground are also visible.
Northern shore of the Pangong Lake[74]
with "fingers" – mountain spurs jutting into the lake[75]

On 5 May, the first standoff began as a clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers at a beach of Pangong Tso, a lake shared between India and Tibet, China, with the Line of Actual Control (LAC) passing through it.[76][77] The Indian soldiers involved in the clash were from 17 Kumaon Regiment.[78] A video showed soldiers from both nations engaging in fistfights and stone-pelting along the LAC.[79] On 10/11 May, another clash took place.[80] A number of soldiers on both sides had sustained injuries. Indian media reported that around 72 Indian soldiers were injured in the confrontation at Pangong Tso, and some had to be flown to hospitals in Leh, Chandi Mandir and Delhi.[81] According to The Daily Telegraph and other sources, China captured 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi) of Indian-patrolled territory between May and June 2020.[82][83][84]

After the clash, several Chinese military helicopters were spotted flying near the Indian border on at least two occasions. India deployed several Sukhoi Su-30MKI jets to the area. Reports that Chinese helicopters had repeatedly violated Indian airspace were denied by the Indian government.[85][86] There were reports of Chinese soldiers approaching Indian soldiers with improvised weaponry of barbed wire "sticks".[87] By 27 June, the Chinese were reported to have increased military presence on both the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso, strengthened their positions near Finger 4 (contrary to what the status quo was in April), and had even started construction of a helipad, bunkers and pillboxes.[88] Satellite imagery from between 12 and 26 June, by Planet Labs shows that the Chinese army increased infrastructure between Finger 4 and 5 on a massive scale, which includes tents, trenches, water tanks and stationed equipment and vehicles along with some camouflaged structures. However, no Chinese helipad and ammunition could be visible from the images. They even inscribed the ancient name of China, Zhongguo (Central state) along with the present day map of China on the shore of the lake between Finger 4 and 5.[89] Both countries have multiple high powered boats for patrolling the Pangong Lake which is 13,900 feet above sea level. While the Indian Army already had multiple boat patrolling teams stationed, the Indian Navy, in July 2020, was called in to match the presence of the Chinese Type 928 B vessels at the lake.[90][91]

Sikkim

According to Indian media reports, on 10 May, a spat began when the Chinese intruded into the Muguthang Valley and shouted at the Indian troops: "this is not your land. This is not Indian territory ... so, just go back." An Indian lieutenant responded by punching a Chinese major's nose.[92] The incident developed into a brawl involving 150 soldiers, with opposing sides throwing stones at one another.[48] Seven Chinese and four Indian soldiers were reported to have been injured.[18][93][94] Following the incident, the Indian Army withdrew from the front line the Indian lieutenant that initiated the brawl.[80] A spokesperson from Indian Army's Eastern Command said that the matter had been "resolved after 'dialogue and interaction' at a local level" and that "temporary and short-duration face-offs between border guards do occur as boundaries are not resolved. Troops usually resolve such issues by using mutually established protocols".[48][49] China did not share details about the incident, and the Chinese Ministry of Defense did not comment on the incident.[95] However, the foreign ministry said that the "Chinese soldiers had always upheld peace and tranquillity along the border".[95]

Eastern Ladakh

Locations along the DS-DBO Road
(and the traditional customary boundary of China declared 1960).[96]

On 21 May, the Indian Express reported that Chinese troops had entered the Indian territory in the Galwan River valley and objected to the road construction by India within the (undisputed) Indian territory. The road under construction is a branch of the Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road (DSDBO) which leads into the Galwan valley.[e] The report also stated that "the Chinese pitched 70–80 tents in the area and then reinforced the area with troops, heavy vehicles, and monitoring equipment. These all happened not very far from the Indian side."[97] On 24 May, another report said that the Chinese soldiers invaded India at three different places: Hot Springs, Patrol Point 14, and Patrol Point 15. At each of these places, around 800–1,000 Chinese soldiers reportedly crossed the border and settled at a place about 2–3 km (1–2 mi) from the border. They also pitched tents and deployed heavy vehicles and monitoring equipment. The report added that India also deployed troops in the area and stationed them 300–500 metres (984–1,640 ft) from the Chinese.[20][21] According to Indian defence analyst Ajai Shukla, China captured 60 km2 (23 sq mi) of Indian-patrolled territory between May and June 2020.[84][98] According to The Daily Telegraph, China captured 20 km2 (7.7 sq mi) of Indian-patrolled territory in the Galwan valley.[82] According to EurAsian Times, the Chinese have a huge build-up including military-style bunkers, new permanent structures, military trucks, and road-building equipment. It quoted an Indian official who called it "the most dangerous situation since 1962."[99] An official, quoted by The Hindu, stated that "this amounted to a change in the status quo which would never be accepted by India."[100] On 30 May, the Business Standard reported that thousands of Chinese soldiers were "consolidating their positions and digging defences needed to repel Indian attacks." They also reported that there were about 18 guns at Pangong Tso and about 12 guns in the Galwan valley providing fire support for the Chinese. Indian troops had taken up positions to block any further advance by the PLA towards the Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road.[101]

The Global Times, which is owned by the Chinese government, blamed India for the stand-offs and claimed that India had "illegally constructed defence facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region." Long Xingchun, a senior research fellow at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, wrote that the border friction was "an accident". India is definitely aware that the Galwan Valley region is in Chinese territory."[102] On 26 May, paramount leader Xi Jinping[6] urged the military "to prepare for the worst-case scenarios" and "to scale up battle preparedness." Furthermore, he said that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought a profound change on the global landscape about China's security and development.[102] On the same day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the current situation in Ladakh with the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval and the Chief of Defence Staff, Bipin Rawat.[103] On 27 May 2020, the Chinese Ambassador to India as well as a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that the overall situation was stable.[104] However, news reports continued stating that thousands of Chinese soldiers were moving into the disputed regions in Ladakh. This move prompted India to deploy several infantry battalions from the Leh, the provincial capital of Ladakh and some other units from Kashmir.[105][106]

Hot Springs

Chinese infrastructure development in Hot Springs is mainly in and around Gogra. Tracks in satellite imagery suggest that PLA troops make forays into Indian territory here.[107] A road also connects this area to the Chinese habitat of Wenquan.[107] Hot Springs area is supposed to be rich in minerals such as gold.[108]

Galwan Valley skirmish

Galwan River at the Line of Actual Control[96]

On 15 June, Indian[f] and Chinese troops clashed for six hours in a steep section of a mountainous region in the Galwan Valley. The immediate cause of the incident is unknown, with both sides releasing contradictory official statements in the aftermath.[109] Beijing said that Indian troops had attacked Chinese troops first,[110] while on 18 June The Hindu quoted a "senior government official" in the Ministry of External Affairs of India who said their troops were ambushed with dammed rivulets being released and boulders being thrown by Chinese troops.[111] The statement said this happened while they were patrolling a disputed area where Colonel Santosh Babu had destroyed a Chinese tent two days earlier.[111] While soldiers carry firearms, due to decades of tradition designed to reduce the possibility of an escalation, agreements disallow usage of firearms, but the Chinese side is reported to possess iron rods and clubs.[112] As a result, hand-to-hand combat broke out, and the Indians called for reinforcements from a post about 2 miles (3.2 km) away. Eventually, up to 600 men were engaged in combat using stones, batons, iron rods, and other makeshift weapons. The fighting, which took place in near-total darkness, lasted for up to six hours.[113] According to senior Indian military officers, Chinese troops used batons wrapped in barbed wire and clubs embedded with nails.[114]

The fighting resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers of 16th Bihar Regiment including its commanding officer, Colonel Santosh Babu.[115][116] While three Indian soldiers died on the spot, others died later due to injuries and hypothermia.[117] Most of the soldiers who were killed fell to their deaths after losing their footing or being pushed off a ridge.[113] The clash took place near the fast-flowing Galwan River, and some soldiers from both sides fell into a rivulet and were killed or injured.[117] Bodies were later recovered from the Shyok River.[116] Some Indian soldiers had also been momentarily taken captive.[117] According to Indian media sources, the mêlée resulted in 43 Chinese casualties.[22][118] At a de-escalation meeting following the incident, the Chinese side accepted that the Chinese commanding officer was also killed in the mêlée.[24][119] The Chinese defence ministry confirmed the existence of Chinese casualties but refused to share the number.[120] Later on, when asked about an Indian minister's assertion about the number of Chinese casualties, China refused to comment.[121] U.S. intelligence reportedly concluded that 35 Chinese soldiers were killed.[19][122] Indian media reported that 10 Indian soldiers were released from Chinese custody in 17 June, including four officers.[9][123] Responding to the reports, the Indian army and the Chinese foreign ministry have both denied that any Indian personnel was taken into custody.[124]

On 16 June, Chinese Colonel Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the PLA's Western Command, said that the Indian military violated bilateral consensus. He further remarked that "the sovereignty over the Galwan Valley area had always belonged to China".[116][125][126] On 18 June, India's Minister of External Affairs made a statement saying that China had "unilaterally tried to change the status quo" and that the violence was "premeditated and planned".[127][128] The same day, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs said that the Chinese PLA had "invaded" the "contested area" between India and China.[129] On 19 June, however, Prime Minister Modi declared that "neither have [China] intruded into our border, nor has any post been taken over by them", contradicting multiple previous statements by the Indian government.[109][130] Later the Prime Minister's Office clarified that Narendra Modi wanted to indicate the bravery of 16 Bihar Regiment who had foiled the attempt of the Chinese side.[131][132] On 22 June, U.S. News & World Report reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the chief of China's Western Theater Command had sanctioned the skirmish.[133]

In the aftermath of the incident at Galwan, the Indian Army decided to equip soldiers along the border with lightweight riot gear as well as spiked clubs.[134][135] In the meantime, the Indian Air Force also had started the process for emergency procurement of 12 Sukhoi-30 MKI and 21 Mikoyan MiG-29 from Russia.[136][137] On 20 June, India removed restriction on usage of firearms for Indian soldiers along the LAC.[138] Satellite images analysed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute show that the Chinese have increased construction in the Galwan valley since the 15 June skirmish.[139] The Chinese post that was destroyed by Indian troops on 15 June was reconstructed by 22 June, with an expansion in size and with more military movement. Other new defensive positions by both Indian and Chinese forces have also been built in the valley.[140]

Depsang plains

Chinese presence, 18 km (11 mi) inside India's side of the LAC, 30 km (19 mi) south-east of DS-DBO road on the Y-junction or Bottleneck at the Depsang Plains, was reported by Indian media on 25 June 2020, who described movements of troops, heavy vehicles and military equipment. The Chinese claim lines are 5 km further west of bottleneck.[141] Indian Patrol Points (PP) 10, 11, 11A, 12 have been blocked by PLA movement and construction at the bottleneck in Depsang. Analyst Praveen Swami reasoned, if the PLA moves additional troops to Raki river then PP 13 is also cut off. China will have claimed more Indian territory.[142] However, Indrani Bagchi, a diplomatic editor for The Times of India, described the military buildup of the Chinese in and around Depsang are mere diversionary tactics.[143]

Ongoing construction of Indian infrastructure

Amid the standoff, India decided to move an additional 12,000 workers (approximately) to border regions to help complete Indian road projects.[26][27] Around 8,000 workers would help Border Roads Organisation's (BRO) infrastructure project, Project Vijayak, in Ladakh while some workers would also be allocated to other nearby border areas.[144] The workers would reach Ladakh between 15 June and 5 July.[28] The first train with over 1600 workers left Jharkhand on 14 June 2020 for Udhampur, and from there the workers went on to assist BRO at the Sino-Indian border.[28][145] Apart from completing the DS–DBO Road the workers would also be assisting the BRO in the construction of the following roads: "Phobrang–Masmikla road, Masmikla–Hot Springs road, Chisumle–Demchok road, Koyul–Photile–Chisumle–Zurasar road and Hanle–Photile road."[146] Starting from June, the government announced up to 170% increase in minimum wages for those working along the India-China border, with the highest increase in wages going to employees in Ladakh.[147] Experts state that the development of Indian infrastructure along the border was one of the causes for the standoffs.[29]

Diplomatic response

India's prime minister Narendra Modi holding a meeting with political parties via video conferencing to discuss the situation in Sino-Indian border areas on 19 June.

After the first melee took place, on 5–6 May 2020 at Pangong Tso, Foreign Secretary of India Harsh Vardhan Shringla called Sun Weidong, the Chinese ambassador to India.[148] Then, Ajit Doval reportedly talked to the CPC Politburo member, Yang Jiechi, who is also a top diplomat under CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping.[148] On 28 May, in a press conference, Indian spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, maintained that there were enough bilateral mechanisms to solve border disputes diplomatically.[149][35] These agreements encompass:[149]

Five bilateral treaties between India and China to address border disputes

  • 1993: Agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border
  • 1996: Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on confidence-building Measures in the military field along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border
  • 2005: Protocol on the modalities for the implementation of confidence-building measures in the military field along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border
  • 2012: Establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on Sino-Indian border affairs
  • 2013: Border defense cooperation agreement between India and China

Additionally there are other agreements related to the border question such as the 2005 "Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question".[150][151] However, some critics say that these agreements are "deeply flawed".[152] The Border Personnel Meeting points have seen rounds of military talks in May–June; first between colonels, then between brigadiers, and then finally, on 2 June, more than three rounds between major generals.[153][154] All these talks were unsuccessful. Some Indian military sources said that India was still unclear with China's demands. "When one wants to stall a process, one makes absurd demands...they purposefully made some unreasonable demands", said the sources.[153] On 6 June 2020, lieutenant general-level talks took place between India and China in Chushul-Moldo.[153][155] The talks involved the Indian commander of Leh-headquartered XIV Corps and the Chinese commander of the Tibet Military District (South Xinjiang Military Region) Maj Gen Liu Lin.[156][155] Prior to talks on 6 June 2016, at lieutenant general-level, the Global Times warned India over American ties.[157]

Following the Galwan clash, Chinese flags and effigies of paramount leader Xi Jinping were set afire in various places across India and various groups registered their protests in different ways. The Global Times responded to these protests saying that it is "extremely dangerous for India to allow anti-China groups to stir public opinion".[158][159] On 17 June 2020, Prime Minister Modi addressed the nation regarding the Galwan skirmish, giving a firm message directed at China over the deaths of Indian soldiers.[160][161] The first communication, since the start of the border dispute, between the foreign ministers of China, Wang Yi and of India, S Jaishankar also happened after the Galwan skirmish.[160] S Jaishankar accused the Chinese actions in Galwan to be "pre-meditated and planned".[160] On 20 June, Chinese social media platform WeChat removed the Indian Prime Minister's remarks on the Galwan skirmish,[162] which was uploaded by the Indian Embassy in China. The official statements of the Ministry of External Affairs were also removed. WeChat said that it removed the speech and statements because they divulged in state secrets and endangered national security.[163] The MEA spokesperson's statement on the incident was also removed from Weibo. Following this, the Indian embassy in China issued a clarification on its Weibo account that the post wasn't removed by them, and re-published a screenshot of the statement in Chinese.[164] On 1 July, Prime Minister Modi quit the Chinese social media platform Weibo.[165][166] On 3 July 2020, during a surprise visit to military post in Ladakh, Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi denigrate the Chinese Government by saying that 'age of expansionism' is over and that the history has revealed "expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back."[167]

The second round of commanders' meeting was on 22 June. In an 11-hour meeting, the commanders worked out a disengagement outline. On 24 June, this disengagement was then diplomatically acknowledged by both sides during the virtual meeting of the "Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs".[139] Chinese spokesperson, Zhao Lijian said that India "agreed to and withdrew its cross-border personnel in the Galwan Valley and dismantled the crossing facilities in accordance with China's request".[139][168] The third round of commanders' talks were held on 30 June.[169][170] In the third round of talks, India reiterated its demand for the pullback of the Chinese troops from all key areas including Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and the Depsang plains and the restoration of status quo ante in April whereas China emphasised that the military buildup in the region should be reduced.[171] Following the talks, it was reported that Chinese vehicles were seen withdrawing from the Galwan clash point, as well as from Hot Springs and Gogra.[172]

Attempts of disengagement

After futile attempts, a discussion scheduled for 5 July, was held between National Security Advisor of India, Ajit Doval and Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, where it was decided that both Indian and Chinese troops would move back 1.8 km from the patrolling point PP 14 which is also the 15 June clash site in the Galwan valley.[173] It was reported that both the troops moved back around 1.5 to 2 km from the PP 14 to create a buffer zone, which would be off-limits for foot patrolling by them for the next 30 days. Chinese troop fully moved out of the clash site, along with thinning down of troops at Hot Springs and Gogra.[174][175] However, the Chinese troops did not withdraw from the Pangong Tso, where they entered 8 km inside Indian patrolling territory.[176][177]

Failure of status quo ante

After the partial disangagement by both sides following the ministry level discussion, several defence analysts pointed out the agreement is a failure of status quo ante that existed until April 2020. Brahma Chellaney, a geopolitical expert, in his column for the Hindustan Times stated that a "full return to status quo ante as sought by India seems remote".[178] The Business Standard wrote there will be further loss of Indian territory due to a 'mutual pullback agreement'. Chinese troops already having intruded more than 2 km into areas that India has traditionally claimed and patrolled citing that Indian troops have historically patrolled up to the areas of PP14 (Galwan clash site), PP15, PP17 and PP17A, and thus a mutual pullback of around 2 km would result in a 'buffer zone' of 4 km lying entirely in Indian territory. It would also mean areas beyond PP14 are now out of bounds.[179] Challaney further wrote that this results in territorial gains for China as a result of the Chinese strategy of "advance 10 miles and retreat 6 miles" resulting in the gain of 4 miles.[178] Furthermore, many have pointed out that the Chinese reluctance of disengagement from the bottleneck 'Y' junction in Depsang plains and finger 4 of Pangong Tso where the Chinese advanced 18 km inside of Indian claimed territory and constructed military establishments is an impediment to returning to the status quo ante.[180][181][182]

Economic response

Initially, India's economic response to China was mainly restricted to patriotic programs on news channels and social media publicity appeals, with very little actual impact on businesses and sales.[183] In May, in response to the border skirmishes, Sonam Wangchuk appealed to Indians to use "wallet power" and boycott Chinese products.[184] This appeal was covered by major media houses and supported by various celebrities.[184][185] Following the Galwan Valley clash on 15 June 2020, there were calls across India to boycott Chinese goods.[38][186] The Indian Railways cancelled a contract with a Chinese firm, while the Department of Telecommunication notified BSNL not to use any Chinese made product in upgradations.[41] Mumbai cancelled a monorail contract where the only bidders were Chinese companies; and alternatively said it would focus on finding an Indian technological partner instead.[187] Numerous Chinese contractors and firms were under enhanced scrutiny following the 2020 border friction. Chinese imports are going through additional checks at Indian customs.[188] (In retaliation, customs in China and Honk Kong held up Indian exports).[189] There are also calls for making sure the Chinese do not have access to strategic markets in India.[39] Swadeshi Jagaran Manch said that if the government was serious about making India self-reliant, Chinese companies should not be given projects such as the Delhi-Meerut RRTS.[40][190] Days later, the Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that Chinese firms would be banned from road projects in India.[191][192] The Haryana government cancelled a tender related to a power project in which Chinese firms had put in bid.[193] The Uttar Pradesh government Special Task Force personnel were given orders to delete 52 apps including TikTok and WeChat for security reasons while officials in Madhya Pradesh Police were given an advisory for the same.[194][195]

Numerous Indian government officials said that border tensions would have no impact on trade between the two countries.[37] Amid the increased visibility of calls for boycotting Chinese goods in the aftermath of the Galwan incidents, numerous industry analysts warned that a boycott would be counter-productive for India, would send out the wrong message to trade partners, and would have very limited impact on China, since both bilaterally as well as globally India is comparatively a much smaller trade power.[196][197][198][199] Experts also stated that while the boycott campaign was a good initiative, replacement products should be available in the immediate future too.[200] An example taken was the pharmaceutical industry in India which meets 70% of its active pharmaceutical ingredient requirements from China. Dumping in this sector is being scrutinized.[201][202] By the end of June, some analysts agreed that the border tensions between India and China would give the Make in India campaign a boost and increase the pace of achieving self-reliance in some sectors.[200]

The issue of Chinese materials in Indian Army bulletproof vests was again raised in June after the Galwan incidents.[203] V.K. Saraswat, a NITI Aayog member and former DRDO chief, said that it was due to the quality and the pricing that Chinese material was being used instead of Indian products.[204] Bullet-proof vests ordered by the government in 2019 had up to 40% Chinese material. On 20 June, it was reported that development of an Indian bulletproof vest, the "Sarvatra Kavach", that is 100% made in India, is near completion.[205] The Maharashtra government put 5,000 crore (US$700 million) worth of Chinese projects on hold.[206] The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade brought out a list of over a 1000 Made in China goods on which the Government of India has sought comments for imposing import restrictions. Previously, the Department had asked private companies to submit a list of Chinese imports.[207][208] Incidents in Ladakh are also being taken as additional reasons to keep India away from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in which China has a big role.[209]

The unprovoked attack by the Chinese on Indian soil on our brave jawaans has been a huge wake up call and a clarion call for action - we @TheJSWGroup have a net import of $400mn from China annually and we pledge to bring this down to zero in the next 24 months #BoycottChina

Tweet by Parth Jindal, JSW Group on 2 July 2020[210][211]

Sales of Chinese smartphones in India were not affected in the immediate aftermath of the skirmishes, despite calls for a boycott. The latest model of Chinese smartphone company OnePlus sold out within minutes in India on 18 June, two days after the Galwan clash.[212][213] Xiaomi India's managing director said that the social media backlash would not affect sales, adding that Xiaomi handsets are "more Indian than Indian handset companies" and that even many non-Chinese phones, including American handsets, are made in and imported from China.[214][215] Following this, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), an apex traders body in India, made a statement sharply criticising Xiaomi's managing director saying that he was "trying to please his Chinese masters by downplaying the mood of the nation".[216][217] TTK Prestige, India's largest kitchen appliances maker, said it would stop all imports from China from 30 September onwards.[218] On 23 June, the government had ordered all e-commerce companies to show the 'country of origin' for products.[219][220] The New York Times reported that on 29 June, as "part of the tit-for-tat retaliation", the Indian government, in an interim order, banned 59 Chinese mobile applications including TikTok, WeChat, UC Browser, SHAREit and Baidu Maps.[221][222][223] The Global Times also reported that all the companies of those banned apps would be heavily impacted, particularly TikTok's parent company ByteDance faced a loss of about $6 billion.[224] PRC responded with blocking Indian newspapers and websites in mainland China.[225] On 3 July, Hero Cycles cancelled 900 crore (US$130 million) worth of projects with China as part of their "commitment to boycott Chinese products".[226]

Public response in Kashmir and Ladakh

India's prime minister visits Ladakh on 3 July 2020 where he interacted with Indian military personnel deployed at forward positions.[227]

Following Galwan clash on 17 June, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah tweeted, "Those Kashmiris tempted to look towards China as some sort of saviour need only google the plight of Uighur Muslims. Be careful what you wish for...".[228] He deactivated his Twitter account following the tweet.[228] Khalid Shah, an Associate fellow at ORF, writes that at large the Kashmiri population has "left no stone unturned to mock the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Chinese belligerence."[229] Stone pelters in Srinagar used slogans such as "cheen aya, cheen aya" (transl. China has arrived, China has arrived) to make fun of the Indian security forces while a joke going around is "cheen kot woat?" (transl. where has China reached?). Memes show Xi Jinping dressed in Kashmiri attire with others showing him cooking wazwan. Khalid writes that while China has become a part of many conversations, online and offline, India should be worried that "Chinese bullying is compared to the actions of the Government of India".[229] Following the tensions with China, communication lines had been cut in Ladakh in places along the border causing a communication blackout, resulting in local councillors requesting the government for the lines to be restored.[230]

International response

  •  Australia: On 1 June, Australia's High Commissioner to India, Barry O'Farrell said that the border issue should be solved bilaterally. He also expressed concern about Chinese presence in the South China Sea.[231]
  •  Europe: Following the Galwan skirmish on 15 June, the spokesperson for the European Union, Virginie Battu-Henriksson, called for de-escalation and a peaceful resolution.[232]
  •  France: In the aftermath of the Galwan skirmish, the envoy of France tweeted condolences and concern for the Indian lives lost at Galwan valley.[233] On 29 June, the French Defence Minister Florence Parly wrote to the Indian Defence Minister, extending condolences for the deaths of 20 soldiers, and also extended support over the LAC tensions, "I wish to express my steadfast and friendly support, along with that of the French Armed Forces".[234][235] With this France became the first country to extend the support of its military to India.[235][236]
  •  Germany: Following the Galwan clash, the envoy for Germany tweeted, "Our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the soldiers who lost their lives in Galwan."[233]
  •  Indonesia: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia called for India and China to both reduce tensions in the aftermath of Galwan.[237]
  •  Italy: The Ambassador of Italy to India, Vincenzo de Luca expressed deepest sympathies following Galwan, adding "India and China are both very important partners not only for Italy, but also for the European Union as a whole." Both countries are crucial actors for regional and global stability".[233]
  •  Japan: In response to the Galwan skirmish, Japanese envoy to India Satoshi Suzuki tweeted condolences for the Indian lives lost following Galwan.[233] On 18 June the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for a peaceful resolution to the situation.[238] Japanese Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki, after a meeting with the Indian Foreign Secretary on 3 July, said that "Japan opposes any 'unilateral attempt to change status quo' on LAC."[239][240]
  •  Maldives: In response to the Galwan clash, the Foreign Minister of the Maldives, Abdulla Shahid, tweeted, "Maldives extends deepest condolences to the people of India for the lives lost in recent clashes on the border. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and communities of the soldiers."[233]
  •  Pakistan: Following the Galwan clash, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan was closely watching the situation and "held India responsible for the conflict."[241] Pakistan officially backed China's position in Ladakh.[242] Amid the India-China standoff, in early July, Indian media reported that Pakistan moved 20,000 troops to the LoC in Gilgit-Baltistan and northern Ladakh.[243]
  •  Russia:
Roman Babushkin, the Russian Deputy Chief of Mission in Delhi, stated on 1 June that Russia maintains that the issue should be solved bilaterally between India and China.[244][245] On 2 June, the Foreign Secretary of India updated and discussed the situation with the Russian Ambassador to India, Nikolay R. Kudashev.[246] Following Galwan, on 17 June, the Ambassador of India in Russia spoke to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister about the situation.[247] Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary for the President of Russia, said that the situation was being closely watched.[248]
Russia initiated virtual talks between RIC (Russia–India–China) on 22 June.[249][250] Russia had scheduled the RIC trilateral for March but delayed it due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[249] About the border situation between India and China, Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov said that the topics for the meeting were already been agreed upon and "the RIC agenda does not involve discussing issues that are related to bilateral relations of a country with another member."[251] During the trilateral meeting India reminded Russia and China of India's selfless involvement in the Russian and Chinese interests during the World War II, where India helped both the countries by keeping supply lines opened in the Persian Corridor and over the Himalayan Hump.[252]
Russia argued that a Sino-Indian confrontation would be a "bad idea" for both the countries, for the Eurasian region and the international system. Russia said such confrontation will damage the Chinese legitimacy in the international system and will reduce the existing limited Chinese soft power. It had advised both the countries that it would be a winnable situation for both the countries with no confrontation while giving the example of zero confrontation of the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War.[253] Russia also proposed to hold the first meeting of the defence chiefs of the three countries which China and India also agreed during the meeting. However, Russia reiterated that China and India can sort out its differences through bilateral means without the involvement of the third party including Russia.[252]
US President Donald Trump, on 27 May 2020, offered to mediate between China and India. This offer was rejected by both countries. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo also raised the issue in a podcast, and referring to China said that these were the kind of actions that authoritarian regimes took and that they can have a real impact.[255][256] Eliot Engel, chief of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, also expressed concern with the situation. He said that "China was demonstrating once again that it was willing to bully its neighbors".[257] On 2 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump discussed the Sino-Indian border situation.[258] In the aftermath of Galwan, the US Secretary of State tweeted condolences to the people of India for the lives lost;[259] while the US Department of State said that the situation was being closely watched.[233] On 18 June Mitch McConnell stated that "for the sake of grabbing territory, the PLA appears to have instigated the most violent clash between China and India since those nations went to war in 1962".[260]
On 20 June, US President Donald Trump said that the US is in touch with both China and India to assist them in resolving the tensions.[261] On 25 June, Mike Pompeo stated that American troops were being moved out of Germany and are being redeployed in India and other American allied South East Asian countries because of the recent actions by the Communist Party of China and so as to be appropriately positioned to act as a counter to the PLA.[262] Congressman Ted Yoho made a statement on 27 June saying that, "China's actions towards India fall in line with a larger trend of the Communist Party of China using the confusion of the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover to launch large scale military provocations against its neighbours in the region, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam [...] Now is the time for the world to come together and tell China that enough is enough." Congressman Ami Bera also expressed concern over the situation at the Indo-China border.[263]
On 1 July, following India's ban on 59 Chinese mobile apps, Mike Pompeo welcomed the decision and said that the move would boost India's 'sovereignty, integrity and national security'.[264]

Protests

Small-scale protests against China's actions along the Indo-China border were held in Canada, the United States and Japan.[265][266][267] The Regional Tibetan Youth Congress held protests outside the Chinese Consulate in Toronto.[266] Tibetan-American, Taiwanese-American, and Indian-American held a rally at Times Square in New York raising placards with slogans such as 'Boycott China', 'Tibet stands with India' and 'Stop Chinese Aggression'.[268][269]

Media response

Chinese media have given little to no attention to the dispute and have downplayed the clashes. In the first month of the standoff, there was only a single editorial piece in the China Daily and the People's Daily.[270] The People's Daily and the PLA Daily did not cover the Galwan clash while the Global Times (Chinese) carried it on page 16.[271] The state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) carried the official military statement on social media with no further coverage.[271] The Global Times ran a number of opinion pieces and one editorial which questioned why China did not disclose its death toll publicly.[271][270][272] China analyst Yun Sun explained that while there may be very little information in the English media of China about the border dispute, there is much more analysis in the Chinese language media.[273] The Chinese media however welcomed Prime Minister Modi's 19 June statement.[109] The Global Times quoted Lin Minwang, a professor at Fudan University's Center for South Asian Studies in Shanghai, as saying that "Modi's remarks will be very helpful to ease the tensions because as the Prime Minister of India, he has removed the moral basis for hardliners to further accuse China".[274] In late June China blocked access to all Indian media and newspaper websites.[275][276]

In India, nearly all mainstream newspapers carried front-page stories as well as multi-page stories of the incident.[277] Following the 15 June clash in Galwan, Times Now published a list that it said contained the names of the Chinese soldiers who were killed in the clash but cautioned that the information “could be a fake forward”; multiple sources subsequently said that it was fake news.[278][279][280] Another list reported by Indian media that was said to also show Chinese soldiers who were killed in action was described by Chinese spokesperson Zhao Lijian as fake news.[281] Ahead of the commanders' meeting on 6 June, disinformation campaigns were reportedly run by Chinese state-controlled media as well as corporations. The Chinese broadcasters showed military manoeuvres along the border, reportedly designed to frighten the Indians.[282] TikTok was reported to have given "shadow bans" to videos related to the border tension. Statements from India were removed from Chinese social media companies such as Weibo and WeChat.[283][284][285] Following the Galwan clash, international coverage in The New York Times[286] and The Guardian commented on the "nationalistic" character of the leaders of both countries and the "dangers posed by expansionist nationalism".[287] The BBC described the situation in Galwan as "an extraordinary escalation with rocks and clubs".[288][289]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Xi Jinping is holding the positions of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the Chinese President, making him the paramount leader of China. However, the Chinese President is a largely a ceremonial office with limited power and not the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.[6]
  2. ^ China tends not to officially release these figures immediately, sometimes even only after decades[23]
  3. ^ Sakteng does not have any contiguous border with China, and is only accessible through Bhutanese or Indian territory previously claimed by China.
  4. ^ The delineation of boundaries on this map must not be considered authoritative
  5. ^ The Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road (DSDBO) is the first border road constructed by India in the Shyok River valley. Started in 2000, it was completed recently in April 2019.
  6. ^ "The June 15 clash involved personnel from 16 Bihar, 3 Punjab, 3 Medium Regiment and 81 Field Regiment."[78]

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Further reading