The Line of Actual Control (LAC) stretching 3,440 km between the China and India border has been a source of agitating territorial tension between the two countries, leading to accusations of trespassing and infringing being hurled from both sides. The long border separating the two countries lies in the geographical vicinity of The Himalayas, with shifting river bodies and snowcaps through the seasons, the line establishing the nations as separate dominions often get blurred, bringing soldiers in a face-off which further leads to border disputes.
There has been some general tension over the border dispute between India and China ever since the 1975 clash, which was marked as the last major war between the two countries. Now nearly four decades later, the India-China border is again gripped in a standoff. On 5- 6, May started as a rival patrol confrontation in eastern Ladakh; the incident instigated rising tensions between the neighboring countries. However, the fatal blow came on June 15 when soldiers from both armies got locked in a violent clash leading to causalities. The Galwan valley, which became the place of the face-off, holds strategic importance for both India and China. It is the closest point that connects to the recently constructed Indian road along the Shyok River to Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) running parallel to the border that divides China’s Xinjiang province form Ladakh. The inauguration of the road makes the already contested area vulnerable. It would allow India rapid reinforcement of troops and ammunition in case of a conflict, thus changing the status quo on the LAC. This angered the establishment in Beijing, stating that it is India that is trespassing its way into the Galwan valley. Another point of contention came last year when India decided to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and with it also changing its regional map, which now includes Aksai Chin, an area in Ladakh that is controlled by China but is claimed by India. The Galwan Valley provides China with the strategic ground to keep a check on the Aksai Chin plateau, with India now accusing China of heavy patrolling in the disputed area.
The past few months have observed simmering tension between the two nuclear nations, with charges of alleged obstruction, civilian kidnapping, and firing of provocative warning shots. The bilateral relations between the two countries have reached their all-time low. The growing political tension, if not controlled, had the potential to unleash drastic geographical and economic consequences. Over the years, there have been attempts from both sides to control the rising tensions. A treaty banning the use of firearms in the border region was already in place. However, the recent accusation from both sides of breaching the treaty made the likelihood of an armed conflict probable.
A surprise twist came on September 10 in a meeting in Moscow where foreign ministers of both the countries agreed to quickly pullout from the standoff to ease tension on the border. S Jaishankar and Wang Yi, the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers, released a joined statement. “Current situation is not in the interest of either side.” They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions. The announcement resulted in a general consensus. It came as a relief for both sides as neither was able to take on another conflict in the international front.
The backchannel communication that resulted in a truce between India and China last week does act as a mitigating force in the face of increasing territorial tension. However, it does not guarantee lasting results. The meeting promised steps that would help “maintain and enhance peace and tranquility,” but there was no strategy given that would entail their implication. There may be a change in the military positioning of troops and the tactical grounds it upholds, transforming the mobilization on LAC but stationing of troops in Ladakh would still remain a priority for both countries due to the strategic ground complete disengagement of troops is impossible. India and China have agreed to reconcile the five-point consensus presented in the meeting; however, both are ready to showcase their military might if one fails to endorse their part of the concurrence, thus indicating that only a permanent border settlement can ensure a lasting outcome. What can be established is that a temporary truce has been reached whose outcome still remains to be seen.
Dua Sohail is a student of Social Sciences at IoBM. Her interests are Social Change, Modern Philosophy and Politics.