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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

A ‘New Normal’ Emerges in India-China Relations

Since May this year, India and China have been involved in a serious confrontation along their disputed boundary known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). China has pushed its version of the LAC further westwards at multiple locations in the Western Sector of the dispute in eastern Ladakh/Aksai Chin. This, it has done, in clear violation of existing bilateral agreements and Chinese troops now occupy vast swathes of territory previously falling within Indian control.

On the night of 15 June 2020, 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers lost their lives in a fierce and brutal physical fight at high altitude in the Galwan Valley. The casualties are all the more notable because the clash involved not firearms but an almost medieval-era array of clubs and assorted weapons. These are the first casualties on the disputed boundary since 1975 and brings to a close an era of relative peace guided by a series of bilateral agreements on confidence-building measures and protocols on troop behaviour along the LAC. 

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

印中關係新常態

今年的6月15日晚間,20名印度士兵和人數不詳的中國士兵,在印度西北部拉達克的加萬谷發生嚴重肢體對抗後喪生。這是自1975年以來,在以實際控制線為代表、有爭議的中印邊界上首次傷亡。

邊界爭端分西部、中部和東部3個部分。除了西段的拉達克,包括阿魯納恰爾邦在內的東段也存在著爭議,軍事紛爭並非僅局限於一個地區。

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Belligerence and Silence: Explaining Chinese Actions Along the LAC in Ladakh

Ever since Xi Jinping came to power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), he has given greater wings to a form of victimhood-based nationalism in China and promoted the image of the CPC as the only institution capable of defending China’s interests. One narrative that has built up as a result is that China must reclaim territories that it had supposedly lost to imperialism and great power machinations over a century and a half before the arrival of the CPC at the helm of affairs in China in 1949. In the initial years however, under Mao Zedong as Chairman of the CPC, it was not nationalism as much ideology that drove China’s actions – China even willingly gave up territory to Vietnam as part of the objective of maintaining friendly relations with a fellow communist country.

But even then, as in the case of India in 1962 and the Ussuri clashes with the Soviet Union in 1969, China was ready to throw in and risk everything to push back when it thought its neighbours were trying to take undue advantage of it or acting in a hegemonic manner.

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Borders Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Chinese Reactions to India’s Reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir

The change in status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir effected by the Indian central government has led to considerable international attention, including from China.

On 6 August, the Chinese Foreign Ministry offered two separate comments: one “on the Current Situation in Jammu Kashmir”[1] and another more specifically “on the Indian Government’s Announcement of the Establishment of the Ladakh Union Territory Which Involves Chinese Territory”.[2]

In the first statement, while China declares that it is “seriously concerned” it asks “both India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve the relevant disputes through dialogue and consultation” (emphasis mine). One should read this as the Chinese indicating they do not see it only as an Indian responsibility to “safeguard peace and stability in the region”[3], that Pakistan should not imagine it has sanction from Beijing to stoke military tensions in the wake of India’s actions.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

India-China Boundary Dispute: LAC Transgressions Will Continue

The next ‘informal summit’ between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be held in Varanasi on 12 October. The announcement of the date has been accompanied in recent days by a series of reports on the state of affairs on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries.

In recent years, some transgressions on the LAC have developed into serious confrontations between the two armies as in the case of Depsang in 2013, Chumur the following year and in Pangong Tso in 2017[1] in the midst of the Doklam standoff in Bhutan.

While reports of LAC transgressions by the Chinese have reduced in number since the Modi government came to power, this might simply be because leaks to the press were plugged. Certainly, it would not be in character for the Chinese to stop their activities along the LAC just because they have made promises to this effect.

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism

China in Central Asia: Myth-making and Foreign Policy

China is deepening its ties with Central Asia through the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative. Cooperation with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) that was already quite intense in the field of trade, especially in the energy sector, is broadening into infrastructure development with an eye on strengthening the region’s role as a transit hub for Chinese products moving to the more prosperous and bigger markets of Europe.

The primary objective for China is, of course, the maintenance of stability in Xinjiang, which is a key Chinese province and actor in the SREB. Despite all the troubles in Xinjiang, however, the province is today considerably better off economically than most of its eight neighbouring countries. Beginning in the 1990s China-CAR trade through Xinjiang has expanded and today, several companies from the province have a strong presence in Central Asia. For example, the Xinjiang-headquartered Chinese enterprise TBEA that has promoted connectivity in Central Asia by building power transmission lines in Kyrgyhzstan and Tajikistan. It is also noteworthy that there is a flight from Urumqi to every CAR capital and to many other cities besides. Indeed, many of these countries are connected to each other by air not directly but via the Xinjiang capital.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

1962: A Very Particular View

Book Review: Shiv Kunal Verma. 2016. 1962: The War That Wasn’t (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company).

This is a well-written book and goes into some considerable detail on each of the major battles of the 1962 conflict between India and China in both the Eastern and Western Sectors. The narrative is riveting and supported by maps particularly of battles in the Eastern Sector as well as reproductions of photographs of many important personalities and events associated with the conflict culled from multiple sources. These definitely add a heft and immediacy to the book often lacking in many historical texts. Without doubt, this is a labour of love, much effort, including by the author’s own family members has gone into it. To recreate the amount of detail there is in the accounts of battle the Verma certainly had access to some very personal reminiscences and he communicates the immediacy and tension of battle as well as the bitterness of defeat with verve and feeling. For these reasons alone, this book must belong to the shelves of any student of India’s wars.

And yet, this book is not without its flaws.

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Borders Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Infrastructure Development along India’s Borders with China

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Political Economy of Infrastructure Development in the Sino-Indian Border Areas’, China-India Brief #22, Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 12–25 February 2014.

China occupies a growing space in the daily imagination of ordinary Indians. While they might be not be conscious of the presence of Chinese components in their mobile phones, Indians are increasingly aware of the wide gulf that exists with China in the provision of such essentials as good physical infrastructure. And nowhere perhaps, is this consciousness stronger than along India’s underdeveloped borders areas with China. From Ladakh in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east, border communities are aware of the stark differences in road, telecom and other forms of physical and social infrastructure between what is available on the Indian side and in Tibet.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

The Ladakh Stand-off: What it Says (or Doesn’t) about China’s India Policy and India’s China Policy

Originally published as part of a debate at, ‘The China-India Border Issue in 2013: Point and Counter-Point’, Associate Paper, Future Directions International, 28 May 2013.

If there is just one lesson to be drawn from the recent stand-off between China and India, it is that the two sides have a long way to go to in establishing mutual trust. While the Ladakh incident was eventually resolved by a combination of military-to-military meetings and diplomatic interactions, three aspects stand out.

One, the Chinese incursion was of a qualitatively different nature from previous such incidents. Hitherto, such ‘incursions’ meant soldiers marking their presence in their claim areas by frequent patrols, painting on rocks, littering and so on. The recent escalation and the intruders’ willingness to stay put for a considerable length of time, despite the difficulties of terrain and logistics, very likely marks the beginning of a new trend along the LAC. It also puts pressure on existing bilateral mechanisms of diplomatic and military contact and procedure. There are several formal mechanisms for inter-military and inter-government interactions, including clear stipulations laid out by treaty, about the nature of military presence in the border areas and the kind of responses that the two sides are to employ if they run into each other in disputed territory. This time, however, there was clearly a degree of unwillingness to compromise or to follow those formal mechanisms and obligations. Indeed, it is possible that this has been the case for some time now.