2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the commencement of diplomatic relations between two of Asia’s biggest forces, India and China, who have shared quite a complicated history. Being India’s largest neighbor, China shares a close liaison with India in terms of trade and politics. However over the years, amid severe geopolitical tensions, border crises, trade issues, and the recent spark of xenophobia amidst the novel Coronavirus, China has somewhere lost its footing in terms of having a relationship of mutual trust and friendship with India. This equation took a further dent when the Chinese and Indian troops participated in an intense face-off in the Galwan Valley earlier this year, resulting in the untimely demise of 20 Indian troops.
It all began on May 5th when both Indian and Chinese troops accused each other of allegedly crossing the Line of Actual Control (LAC), one of the world’s largest borders, that is shared between the two nations in the Galwan Valley in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. While the Chinese officials have barely spoken on the issue and even talked down the escalation of events, Indian officials have confirmed that the Chinese troops aggravated the faceoff by setting up tents and guards on the Indian side of the border posts in the Galwan Valley region even after repeated orders to refrain from doing so. What followed was a heated match of shouts, fistfights, and other physical altercations involving around 250 troops from both sides.
The dispute took place on two occasions- first, in the Galwan Valley region where Chinese officials argue that certain fortifications and obstructions were being orchestrated by Indian troops. The second altercation took place in Sikkim. In an attempt to prevent this debacle from worsening further and establishing peace, on June 6th, senior military leaders Lt. General Harinder Singh, commander of 14 corps, and Major General Liu Lin, South Xinjiang Military District Commander held a 6-hour long discussion about the de-escalation of events. The meeting led to the fruition of three decisions: the disengagement in the Galwan Nala and Finger areas, cutting back on the number of patrols as a means to display confidence and trust in each other, and no patrolling during nights.
As an aftermath of this, several troops moved back and peace did seem to be restored, however, on June 15th, yet again disagreement occurred relating to the demarcation between the troops and fists, clubs and rocks were used, resulting in a deadly battle between the two nations across the Galwan Valley region. Indian officials have reported 20 casualties, while China hasn’t reported any deaths as of yet. The most violent clash in decades, this has turned the relationship with China sour as millions of Indians call for a complete boycott of Chinese products.
To establish some control, the Indian government has given the green light to three defense forces to use up to Rs. 500 crores per project for the purpose of procuring critical ammunition and weapons. Moreover, the rules of engagement at LAC have been altered, for the time being, allowing troops to use firearms if the need arises.
The Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been a source of contention and animosity between both the two nations since 1962, owing to the fact that India considers the LAC to outstretch over 3,488 km long while China argues that it’s only 2000 km long. LAC demarcates the countries of India and China through its three sub-divisions: the western sector in Ladakh, the middle sector in Uttarakhand, and the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh; however these areas are yet to be clearly defined by both sides.
In an attempt to defuse these tensions, a Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity agreement was signed in 1993. Notwithstanding the agreement or the several rounds of diplomacy and peace-making that followed, border tensions are no surprise to the officials and military leaders of both the countries, as can be witnessed by previous border crises at Depsang in 2013, Chumar in 2014 and Doklam tri-junction in 2017, which expanded to 73 days before tensions were finally defused after many diplomatic sessions.
Without a doubt, these hostilities have led to much disruption in the grazing activities in the Kashmiri regions. Pashmina, the world’s finest and most expensive wool, is cultivated by the rearing of hundreds and thousands of pashmina goats. However, the clashes between the two nations over the years has caused thousands of these goats to be pushed out of their grazing lands and thus losing their kids. This loss of life could be detrimental to this particular sector within a few years, which produces 50 tonnes of the most valuable cashmere wool each year, and hurt thousands of Kashmiri people employed in the emerging industry as a result.
These border crises are a culmination of several geopolitical and economic factors. Owing to India’s recent infrastructural development in the border region, China has been led to feel apprehension about India’s increasing involvement in various areas of development and politics, thus possibly motivating the country to assert its power and control. The abrogation of Article 370 was responsible for causing some outrage to China as well. Aksai Chin, a much-disputed area of Kashmir again fell under scrutiny following this event, as once again China exerted control over Kashmiri land which India argues falls under its jurisdiction. China, in the past, has also thoroughly supported Pakistan by blocking India’s entry into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, much to the chagrin of India.
In addition to these military tensions, China has emerged as an influential global leader in terms of trade and economy, which has caused rivalries with other superpowers like the US. India imports a large chunk of Chinese goods- nearly 100 Chinese companies operate in India, especially Vivo, Xiaomi, Huawei, and Oppo, which constitute more than 50% of India’s mobile phone market. According to reports, India imported nearly USD 57 billion worth of goods from China and exported only one-fourth of this value between April 2019 to January 2020.
The ‘Make in India’ campaign, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has sparked an element of nationalism in the consumers of India, with hundreds and thousands questioning this exact dependency on China and calling on others to boycott these goods. India’s hosting of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who had been exiled following his resistance against the Chinese rule, has been a source of disagreement between the two nations as well.
China and India’s fickle relationship and ties are a deterrent to what the two most populous nations can achieve together. It’s a shame that much of the underlying potential of a probable union of friendship has been lost owing to the uncertainty and ego-clashes that the common people of India and China have witnessed over the years. The bilateral ties which seek to establish peace and tranquillity between the two are yet to fulfill its objective, let alone be used as a catalyst for a combined economic and social development of these two nations.