Author: Umang Dudeja
IMS Unison University, Dehradun
The death of 20 Indian soldiers in a clash with Chinese troops was the deadliest clash between the two nuclear-armed nations in decades, but hardly the first. In 1962, India and China fought a war, but the border issues persisted, with Beijing implying that the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and New Delhi considered Aksai Chin as its territory occupied by China. The last major tension on the border took place in 2014, when Chinese troops reportedly entered Indian Territory in Ladakh. Within three weeks, the conflict was resolved. The latest clash took place at a disputed border area in the Galwan area of Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, an area at an altitude of around 14,000 feet where temperatures often fall below freezing. The disputed site lies in the remote mountains and fast-flowing rivers on India's northern edge, overlooking the Aksai Chin Plateau, claimed by India but controlled by China.
Keywords: Indo-China dispute, Border issue, Indo-China troops, Galwan area of Ladakh, Nuclear countries
Tensions between India and China are not new. The two countries, which share the longest unmarked frontier in the world, fought a full-fledged war in 1962 and have engaged in several small skirmishes since then. Not a bullet has been fired across their shared frontier since 1975. Consequently, the idea that Sino-Indian conflicts are flashes in the panel and unlikely to lead to a broader combat has become a commonly held consensus. Recent events however suggest that it is highly possible to escalate. Both sides have significant and increasing military deployments along a mostly disputed frontier and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been trying to test India's military preparedness and political resolve over several strategic areas for more than a decade. Peace cannot be taken for granted any more.
Currently, India-China border has dispute regions in western sector, around Aksai Chin, around 1950s when China started constructing road connecting Xinjiang to Tibet through Aksai Chin. Dongra kingdom and China decided two areas as boundary but did not demarcate the area between them:
1. Karakoram Range
2. Pangong Lake
Under the princely state, Johnson took on the process of demarcation and called Johnson's Line, which was later modified as Modified Johnson Boundary. But this was not conveyed to China at the time because it was very small and so did not control Xinjiang.
The current dispute revolves around a tri-junction between India and China and Bhutan. Although the border dispute between China and India has escalated several times, it is different now because, due to our relations with Bhutan, the disputed area, i.e. Doklam area of Ladakh, belongs to Bhutan and Indian troops defend it. The area is near Siliguri Pass or ‘Chicken Neck’, which links North East-India to mainland India. There are thousands of Tibetan refugees in this region too. It is also important as Doklam facilitates the easier installation of tri-junction military bases. The dispute between China & Bhutan over this region is not new. But China has recently begun to build roads in that region, exacerbating the conflict.
DEATH AT THE DISPUTED HIMALAYAN BORDER
Twenty people died in conflicts between Indian and Chinese armies along the disputed Himalayan border running through Kashmir's Ladakh district. It was the first deadly collision since 1975 and the worst since 1967.
The Fight erupted when an Indian patrol came across a narrow ridge of Chinese forces. An Indian commanding officer was pushed during the conflict and dropped into the river gorge. Hundreds of troops were called in and fought from both sides.
The Indian Army said there were casualties on both sides and confirmed the killing of three of its soldiers during the confrontation, with another 17 later succumbing to injuries, while on the other side Beijing declined to confirm any deaths over its side, but started accusing India of breaching its commitment and once again crossing the Line of Actual Control (LAC), illegally and deliberately launching provoking attacks, triggered strong physical confrontation between the two sides, resulting in injuries.
The dispute had begun on the intervening night of 5/6 May with a scuffle in the Pangong Tso sector, resulting in serious injuries on both sides. Around 76 Indian personnel were wounded, including a commander who had to be taken to Delhi. The second scuffle occurred at Naku La in North Sikkim on May 9. Although the last incident of firing and death on the border with China occurred on 20 October 1975, when an Assam Rifles patrol team was ambushed by the Chinese troops at Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh, resulting in the deaths of four personnel.
A BORDER CHINA NEVER AGREED
The dispute dates back to at least 1914, when delegates from Britain, the Republic of China and Tibet met in Shimla, which is now part of India, to negotiate a settlement that would decide Tibet's position and resolve the boundaries between China and British India effectively.
The Chinese refused to sign the deal, balking at proposed terms that would have allowed Tibet to be independent and remain under Chinese control. But Britain and Tibet signed a treaty forming what would be called the McMahon Line, named after Henry McMahon, a British colonial official who suggested the boundary.
India maintains that the official legal border between China and India is the McMahon Line, a 550-mile frontier that extends through the Himalayas. And yet China never acknowledged that.
After that, India declared independence from Great Britain in 1947. Two years later, the Chinese revolutionary, Mao Zedong proclaimed the end of the Communist Revolution in his country and founded the People's Republic of China.
The two nations, now the most populated countries in the world, found themselves at odds across the border almost immediately. During the 1950s, tensions rose. The Chinese continued to insist that Tibet was never independent, and that it could not have ratified an international border treaty. Several attempts at peaceful negotiations failed.
China sought to control critical roadways near its western frontier in Xinjiang, while India and its Western allies saw any attempts at Chinese incursion as part of a wider plot to export Maoist-style Communism across the region.
There was a war outbreak in 1962. Crossing the McMahon Line, Chinese troops took up positions deep in Indian Territory, obtaining mountain passes and cities. The war lasted for months but led to more than 1,000 Indian deaths and more than 3,000 Indians captured alive. Chinese army suffered less than 800 deaths. By November, China's Premier Zhou Enlai declared a cease-fire, unofficially redrawing the border close to where Chinese troops had conquered land. It was called as The Line of Actual Control.
IMPACT OF INDIA-CHINA CONFLICT
As tensions rise at the India-China border, the economic fall from the souring relationship between the two countries is more troubling. This is because the two neighbours’ economic interdependence is too strong to neglect.
China and the US are India's two biggest trading partners. While Indian exports to the US surpass the country's imports, in China, the same is not true and therefore; being friends with India will also have market implications in China.
India’s top trading partner: China
China accounted for 11.8 per cent of India's total imports for the period between April 2019 and February of this year. Indian total exports to the world, however, were only 3 per cent. Of course, we are buying more from China than we are selling. This trade deficit with China, which is also a significant contributor to India's overall trade deficit, is one of the two nations' largest trade deficits worldwide.
In February, the deficit with China stood at $3.3 billion, a 13 per cent increase from the year-ago period. This is even as India's gross trade deficit has stayed stable at $9.8 billion from a year ago.
India’s import from China: India's imports from China rose from 13.7 per cent in 20-18-19 to 14.1 per cent in 2019-20. India's major imports from the neighbour include engineering goods, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and automobile components. At a total value of over $18 billion, electronic imports formed a quarter of the total imports in February. Nuclear reactors, machinery and parts comprised another major chunk of the imports at $12 billion.
India’s export to China: India's exports to China rose from 5.1 per cent in 2018-19 to 5.3 per cent in 2019-20 (until February). Organic chemical, ores, slag and ash, and mineral oils, mineral fuels and other industry products comprise India's exports to the country. Even after India's total value of exports growing by almost half between 2010 and 2019, the sum going to China has shrunk by 14% over the period, exacerbating a trade imbalance that fuel India's nationalistic twist.
It is no secret that India is the biggest market for Chinese businesses outside their own country. Citing Gateway House research, CNN reported that Chinese investors have poured some $4 billion into Indian tech start-ups since 2015.
For example, Alibaba has invested in the Indian e-commerce company Snapdeal, the Paytm digital wallet and the Zomato food delivery platform. Meanwhile, Tencent has supported the Indian messaging company Hike and ride hailing app Ola. Gateway House found that Chinese investors own over half of India's 30 unicorns, private companies worth more than $1 billion.
Numerous large Chinese companies, including mobile phones, electronic devices and internet companies, are investing heavily in India's consumer market, where a rapidly growing middle-class and aspiring young consumer base has helped boost growth for companies such as Xiaomi Corp, BBK Electronics, which owns brands such as Oppo, Vivo, and others, apart from electronics goods company TCL. India's emergence as the largest overseas market for Chinese mobile phone companies is one of China's most significant developments over the past five years in its relations with India. In 2019, India's sales of these top Chinese smartphone brands totalled over $16 billion.
The Chinese smartphone manufacturers have already established factories and generated employment in India. Interestingly, the "Make in India" initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been adopted by some smartphone manufacturers. Xiaomi manufactures 95 per cent of the phones that it sells locally in India. And thus, any adverse announcements forcing Chinese companies to shut down shop in India will add to the burgeoning rate of unemployment in India.
While it is commonly perceived that, in the event of a confrontation with China, India will be most affected economically, the latter, too, would lose a major and maybe one of the easiest markets to enter. China will therefore stand to lose just as much as India.
POSSIBLE OUTCOMES OF INDO-CHINA DISPUTE
1. Either India or China may step back easing the conflict or postponing it to future
2. Settling the matter forever through talks.
3. Conflict may aggravate and end up leading to war.
War is least a possibility because both countries are nuclear powers, and they are aware of the devastating effects of war, regardless of whether they win or lose. Despite hundreds of minor conflicts, since the Indo-China War of 1962, not even a single bullet has been fired at the border. Both sides show restraint. Both countries seem to have a deep insight of focusing on economic ties for mutual advantage rather than border issues and based on geopolitical conditions no third country could join either India or China in helping. Both sides know that, in the case of battle, there will be no definite victory.
The prospect of a wider armed conflict between India and China is minimal, analysts said that given the escalation in recent Himalayan border clashes that for the first time in more than four decades resulted in casualties.With both sides accusing each other of breaking the agreement of 6 June, it will be more difficult to push ahead with previously agreed de-escalation moves.
Observer Research Foundation's Pant said that the relatively high recorded death toll, with at least 20 Indian soldiers dead, is expected to change the dynamics of the relationship between India and China for a very long time, particularly on the economic front.
The dispute has major geopolitical implications for the world. The two most populous nations on earth are China and India and both are nuclear powers. They are led by governments that run stiffly along nationalist lines, and whose armies are seen as identifiers of national status and pride. In recent weeks both sides have been working towards de-escalating the situation, but the loss of life makes the situation much more complex and unstable.
If the two sides set aside their differences, there are several points on which the two countries need international forum co-operation. Besides all that, China wants India to realize that China is militarily, economically, stronger than India. It wants India to recognize China as being a world power. India's indifferent conduct towards China may wish it to display its dominance and attempt to taunt India as it did in the war of 1962. It is high time that both countries resumed diplomatic dialogs and resolved the problem before it escalated to a dangerous level.
It is expected that the recent violent clash will further deteriorate bilateral ties between India and China, and that India will begin to push back against Chinese incursions. There is already a growing anti-China sentiment in India, with growing louder calls for boycott of Chinese products. New Delhi has also introduced restrictive measures on foreign direct Chinese investments. According to Jonathan Ward, founding member of strategic consultancy company Atlas Organisation, “China is losing its relationship with two of the world's most important countries.”
References https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/16/asia/china-india-border-clash-intl-hnk/index.html  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/world/asia/india-china-border-clashes.html https://www.cnn.ph/business/2020/6/18/china-india-economic-ties-threat.html https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/17/india-china-border-standoff-analysts-say-war-is-unlikely.html