As the aftershocks of the incident in the Galwan valley are continuing in the region, an important, and larger question rises at this moment. What future do the world’s two biggest countries have together in the light of the recent developments at the China – India border?
The two countries share a long border of 3500km called Line of Actual Control (LAC) since the furious war of 1962. This border has witnessed several violent incidents for years after the truce, but both the countries had maintained a king of agreement of compromise of interests.
Any activity around the border such as close patrols, constructions of bases, bunkers and military sites, and laying down roads ignite tensions across the border, however, the tensions have always been defused by overlooking and talking down the activities across the border as unintended mistakes resulting from ignorance of actual border, which is in fact not demarcated.
There had been two major conflicts in recent years at Depsang (2013) and at Doklam (2017) along with Bhutan which were resolved by diplomatic negotiations, last of which was the Wuhan Summit.
A similar outcome was expected by the Indian state at the start of the latest conflict. This year there were conflicts at Galwan Valley, Chang Chenmo Valley, Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, and in Sikkim too. However, these incidents smashed the period of truce maintained since 1975. These incidents left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead which triggered rage in the Indian masses resulting in a boycott movement against Chinese products. At this moment, China – India relations are at their lowest of the previous half-century.
India subconsciously fears to aggravate the conflict with China, the country which ceased more than twenty-three thousand square kilometers of Indian claimed territory during the previous war and claims sovereignty over more than ninety thousand square kilometers further into the Indian occupied territory of Arunachal Pradesh.
It has been the Indian official policy for decades to keep the dragon calm and maintain the hundred billion dollars trade relation intact with its neighboring country.
What motivated China to destabilize the condition of a relatively peaceful border?
The Indian version on this is the adventurism of Chinese PLA establishing their permanent presence far beyond the LAC near Pangong Tso Lake including tents, built structures and roads. The trespassing is aimed at controlling the crossing point of Shyok and Galwan rivers occupying the whole Galwan valley which according to Chinese claims always belonged to them.
A war at this moment is very unlikely from both sides, rather a small scale incursion by China, claiming of sovereignty on a small area and a subsequent truce seems very likely. Though the ceasefire would be accepted by India too, however, China would come out in a better position as a result of this peace.
The Chinese position on the demarcation of LAC has always remained that it should be uphold to the decision of upcoming generations, which seems a long term plan of the strengthening global power of annexing small scales of territory gradually. Consequently, India would lose its claim of regional power, not even capable of securing its own sovereignty, leave alone the protection of smaller states or representing the western pole of democratic nations in the region. It is even a test of resolve for India, for a face-saving in front of its arch-enemy and China’s old ally Pakistan.
The Galwan events have also stirred a popular discourse in India that it must now establish a democratic bloc in the region with US’s support. The reasons for this discourse to rise is the lack of trust on their largest trade partner who has invested into a multibillion-dollar project in their archenemy’s lands, the clear position of their northern neighbor in the conflicts with their western neighbor, constant opposition of India’s aspiration of joining the ranks of Global powers as a permanent member of UNSC and NSG, and the ever-increasing economic and military presence of China at all sides of India including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The post-cold war era posed a dilemma for rising China regarding India as to accept it as a global partner along with Russia, but India’s inclination towards the US after the Cold war, especially after the 9/11 forced China into a more orthodox position regarding India, despite India’s claim of non-alignment and huge business partnership. India proved this point on several occasions for example by boycotting and criticizing the BRI, withdrawal from RCEP, joining the QSD and supporting US presence in Indo-Pacific and South-China sea and establishing its military bases in the CARs.
India has a history of avoiding placing all its eggs in one basket. Neither it has remained a reliable ally of the US, nor has it formed an alliance with China, despite Modi’s five official visits to China. This time India might be forced to join the American ranks out of desperation. A Geopolitics professor at Manipal University, Madhav Nalapat has hinted US intervention in the South-China Sea and the Taiwan Strait this year, and has claimed that Indian forces might find themselves along with the American Navy and Airforce in the conflict with China.