Chinese build-up is happening by the Pangong Tso lake and Galwan Valley

On May 5, around 250 Indian and Chinese army personnel clashed with iron rods, sticks, and even resorted to stone-pelting in the Pangong Tso lake area of Ladakh, in which soldiers on both sides sustained injuries.

After Chinese accusation of Indian Army's border transgressions and strong Indian push back, Ladakh has become a festering point for the Sino-Indian relations. The border skirmishes have resulted in Chinese military fast increasing its troops in areas around Pangong Tso lake and Galwan Valley along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. This seems to be a clear signal that it was not ready to end its confrontation with the Indian Army anytime soon. 

An Indian Army patrol party was briefly detained and released by Chinese forces last week. There is no official statement on the same, and THE WEEK could not independently confirm the veracity of the claim.

The Indian Army has been matching up to the Chinese build-up in both Pangong Tso lake and Galwan Valley and it is in a much advantageous position in certain other sensitive areas in the region. The Indian troops are also resorting to "aggressive patrolling" in several sensitive areas including Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldi.

The Chinese side has particularly bolstered its presence in the Galwan Valley, erecting around 100 tents in the last two weeks and bringing in heavy equipment for construction of bunkers, notwithstanding the stiff protest by Indian troops. There have been reports of multiple incidents of transgressions by Chinese troops in several areas in Eastern Ladakh in the last one week, in keeping with the increasing number of such incidents over the past years. According to official data, the Chinese Army transgressed into Indian territory 1025 times between 2016 and 2018. The number of transgressions by Chinese Army in 2016 was 273 which rose to 426 in 2017. 

There were even reports that the Chinese army forcefully stopped movement of Indian troops on several occasions when they were carrying out patrolling in Pangong Tso lake area this week.

Border Disputes

India and China do not have a well-defined border, and troop face-offs are common along its 3,500 km Line of Actual Control (LAC), though not a bullet has been fired for four decades. The border can be broadly divided into three sectors—Western, Middle and Eastern. The Western sector, which includes Ladakh, is governed by the Johnson Line, making Aksai Chin (controlled by China) in Jammu and Kashmir contested territory for India.

The Middle sector, consisting of Uttarakhand and Himachal, is relatively tranquil. Even map exchanges between the two countries have taken place, based on a broad understanding of borders.

In the Eastern Sector (where Indian controls territory based on the MacMahon Line), China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet, while India contests it. The MacMahon Line was drawn was drawn at the tripartite 1913-14 Simla Convention attended by British India, Tibet and China; the problem: Tibet is involved and China is not a signatory to this pact.

Flash Points In India-China Border Relations 

After the 1962 Sino-Indian war, one of the longest standoffs between the Indian and Chinese armies happened at Sumdorongchu (near the Bhutan tri-junction) in 1986, when the troops had an eyeball-to-eyeball stalemate. In 1988, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping in Beijing to mend ties, bringing forward an era of thawed hostilities. In his meeting with Gandhi, Deng said relationship between India and China had been "very good in the 1950s but turned sour for a long period after that". In an apparent reference to the 1962 war, Deng told Gandhi that "now was moment to forget those unpleasant things and look to the future".

In 2017, at Doklam, near the same Bhutan tri-junction, the troops of India and China were engaged in a 73-day stand-off, triggering fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first informal summit in April 2018 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, months after the Doklam standoff. In the summit, the two leaders decided to issue "strategic guidance" to their militaries to strengthen communications so that they can build trust and understanding.

Modi and Xi held their second informal summit in Mamallapuram near Chennai in October last year with a focus on further broadening bilateral ties.

Will Tensions Defuse?

In the midst of the escalating tension, Army Chief Gen M.M. Naravane paid a quiet visit to the headquarters of 14 Corps in Leh on Friday and reviewed with the top commanders the overall security scenario in the region. 

In the last one week, local commanders of both the sides held at least five meetings during which the Indian side took strong note of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) erecting a large numbers of tents in areas in Galwan Valley which India felt belonged to its side of the LAC.

India said the Chinese military was hindering normal patrolling by its troops and asserted that India has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management. At a media briefing, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava also strongly refuted China's contention that the tension was triggered due to trespassing by Indian forces on the Chinese side.

For the past four decades, India and China have policed the border without firing a single bullet. There are hopes that the tension will defuse without further escalations.