China’s renewed interest in taking back the control of the Galwan Valley from India apparently has its origin in its recalibrated strategic plan to secure its National Highway 219, which runs through the disputed Aksai Chin region and links its two trouble-spots – Xinjiang and Tibet.

The Galwan Valley has been unaffected by the occasional flashpoints along the disputed India-China boundary for several decades, after a post of the Indian Army in the area was overrun by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in November 1962. The area remained under India’s effective control without any challenge from China for several decades. The lull ended last month, when the Chinese PLA deployed a large number of soldiers in response to what Global Times, a newspaper run by the Communist Party of China, reported as construction of defence facilities by the Indian Army.

The valley saw a violent face-off between Indian Army and the Chinese PLA late at night on Monday, although it was where the diplomats and the military officials of the two sides had agreed to start the disengagement from. 

A spokesperson of the Chinese PLA’s Western Theatre Command on Tuesday asserted China’s sovereignty over Galwan Valley fully negating the claim of India. 

The Galwan River Valley is named after Ghulam Rassul Galwan, who in the 19th century guided expeditions by western explorers into what are now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.

China has been ruthlessly crushing protests by the Uyghurs and the Tibetans against its rule in Xinjiang and Tibet over the past decades. Yet President Xi Jinping’s regime in Beijing remains paranoid about the two troubling fringes of the Middle Kingdom, even as its repression and blatant human rights violation in both the region drew international flak.

Xinjiang and Tibet are linked by a highway which was built between 1951 and 1957. The highway – now known as G219 – runs through Aksai Chin, an area of 38000 sq km, which is currently administered by China, but claimed by India.

The highway was one of the triggers for the India-China conflict in 1962.

What renewed China’s interests in Galwan Valley after almost six decades was India’s August 5, 2019 move to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and reorganize the state into two Union Territories. China joined Pakistan in opposing the initiative by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, not only as a mark of solidarity with its “iron brother”, but also because it was worried over the implication of the New Delhi’s move on its own boundary dispute with India.

Beijing perceived New Delhi’s decision to separate Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir and declare it as a new Union Territory as a move to bolster its claim on Aksai Chin. It publicly accused India of “undermining” China’s sovereignty by “unilaterally changing its domestic laws”.

What also raised hackles in Beijing was Home Minister Amit Shah's statement in the Lok Sabha on August 6, 2019 that just as the entire J&K state had remained an integral part of India, the two new UTs too would include, not only India's territory currently under illegal occupation of Pakistan, but also areas Pakistan had illegally ceded to China in 1963 as well as Aksai Chin – a territory east of Ladakh claimed by both India and China.

When External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had held a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on August 12, 2019, he had sought to allay the concerns of the communist country stating that New Delhi’s move on J&K had been India’s internal matter of India and not aimed at making new territorial claims along its disputed boundary with China.

New Delhi also repeatedly conveyed to Beijing over the past few months that it remained committed to finding a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to India-China boundary question” through talks between the Special Representatives of the two Governments.

Modi’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Wang are currently leading the India-China talks on boundary as Special Representatives of the respective governments. They had held the 22nd round of talks in New Delhi in December 2019.

Beijing, however, seems to have remained suspicious about New Delhi’s intent and Indian Army’s moves on the Western Sector of the LAC, particularly for building infrastructure in eastern Ladakh.

This is what perhaps explains the Chinese Army’s renewed interest in controlling the Galwan Valley, which is important for it to thwart any future threat to its Xinjiang-Tibet highway in particular and Aksai Chin in general.

Beijing remains paranoid about the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile based in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh and thousands of Tibetans, who live in India. Tibet continues to be a card for India to hold against China.

Beijing also remains concerned over growing United States’ support to the Tibetans and the Uyghurs, who are running global campaigns against China’s occupation over their homelands – Xinjiang and Tibet. And, when China did its routine threat analysis and recalibrated its strategic plan in response to New Delhi’s August 5, 2019 move on J&K and Ladakh, it surely took into account expanding security and defence cooperation between India and the US.

No wonder, it made China’s military planners once again realize the importance of keeping the Indian Army as far away as possible from the Xinjiang-Tibet highway and Aksai Chin. One of the ways to do so for China was to change the status quo in Galwan Valley and wrest it back from India. And, this is what the Chinese PLA has been doing over the past few weeks.