An incident occurred on Tuesday, August 15th between troops from China and India near Pangong Lake in Ladakh. Ladakh is a region in Jammu and Kasmir that extends from the Kunlun mountain range to the Great Himalayas. The Pangong Lake has been a major source of contention between China and India over the years, as both countries claim the area as part of their own territory. China’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, soldiers allegedly attempted to enter the Indian area from two points, Finger Four and Finger Five, in the early hours of the morning. Both attempts were rendered unsuccessful due to the arrival of Indian troops, whose soldiers constructed a human chain to block the PLA’s path of entry. This angered the Chinese troopers, prompting them to throw stones at the opposing soldiers. An Indian defence official told AFP, “There was a minor incident. There was some stone pelting from the Chinese side but the situation was quickly brought under control.” Unfortunately, this situation is not particularly uncommon, as the ambiguity of the border dispute between these two nations has lead to more than 300 contested border crossings throughout August.
According to a police official in India, the confrontation occurred along the de facto border, called the Line of Actual Control. This is the demarcation line that was established to separate the Indian-controlled region from the Chinese-controlled region. Ash K. Kantha, a former Indian ambassador to China, stated, “Both nations recognize that there are big differences in perception about the LAC, but these have been managed well and troops have gone back to the respective positions. Ensuring that these old modalities hold is extremely important. The alternative is not good.” Another official continued, “These things happen every summer, but this one was slightly prolonged and more serious. But no weapons were used.” It is important to note, however, that while conflict along this border is not out of the ordinary, the use of stones by the Chinese troopers in reaction to the Indian blockade was “unprecedented and unusual.” This may have been done deliberately by the Chinese in an effort to increase tension without resorting to the use of lethal or deadly weapons. China, however, has denied any involvement in a skirmish with India last week. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated, “I have no knowledge of the details you mentioned, but what I can tell you is that Chinese border troops have always been committed to maintaining the peace and tranquillity of the China-India border areas.”
A previously scheduled meeting was held between officers from the Chinese and Indian armies later that week, and this particular clash, which occurred on India’s Independence Day, was added to the discussion. As reported by The Express, both sides acknowledged a dire need to establish and follow better protocols to help avoid future problems between the countries. China’s PLA went on to decline India’s invitation to participate in the country’s ceremonial Independence Day meeting on the border. This was the first time the traditional meeting was not held since 2005. A second meeting that is generally held on the Chinese side of the border each year was also cancelled. Although many of the skirmishes over the border have been nonviolent, the cancellation of these meetings clearly illustrates the increasing frustration between China and India.
This recent incident heightens the tension that has been built over the border standoff in Dokalam for decades. This region, situated between Tibet’s Chumbi Valley to the north, Bhutan’s Ha Valley to the east, and India’s Sikkim state to the west, is the site of a long-standing dispute. And while three major countries claim sovereignty over that region, the tri-junction standoff has become especially contentious between China and India over the last several months. This is due, in part, to the fact that China intended to build a road throughout the plateau. However, as India and Bhutan still maintain their claim over portions of the land, the construction was met with resistance. To that end, India has gone so far as to deploy its troops in an effort to prevent any further infrastructure by China. India perceives China’s presence in this area as a threat, as it fears the road would potentially inhibit its access to the rest of the country. As a result, Indian officials claim that they had no other options but to act, as China is threatening their stability. An official for New Delhi stated that both sides should withdraw any forces prior to opening up a dialogue for negotiation.
What would happen if these two major BRIC nations were unable to manage their dispute peacefully? Unfortunately, this August 15th skirmish adds to a history of violence and conflict that has occurred between these two powerful nations for decades. Following the 1959 Tibetan uprising, during which India granted political asylum to the Dalai Lama, there were several violent disputes. Ultimately, the Sino-Indian War broke out in 1962, again as a result of the disputes over the contested Himalayan border. China and India could not agree on the sovereignty of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh border regions. Aksai Chin, in particular, triggered major disagreements because it is the site of a critical road that connects the Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. India claimed the land as property of Kashmir, while China claimed it as the property of Xinjiang.
China and India are two of the most powerful economies in the world, and both have the ability to inhibit global economic stability. Both nations are highly advanced in the field of technology and have the means to engage in nuclear warfare. In light of these facts, it is evident that a war between China and India could result in devastating and long-lasting global repercussions. This reality should prompt leaders of both nations to recognize the importance of maintaining civility in the conflict and reaching a compromise on the border situation. Other global powers, too, can encourage these countries to settle their dispute peacefully, before any further battle occurs. It would be in both parties best interests to find a way to settle this dispute, whether by formally delineating the borderline or by establishing a more clear set of protocols to deal with situations along the contested region. According to MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, “Such incidents do not contribute to peace and tranquillity at the border and are not in the interest of either side.”