The News: India and China have recently engaged in another skirmish at a stretch of land that serves as a border between the two countries, in an area called the Galwan Valley. This is a big deal because 20 Indian soldiers died on that day. The two sides are now using diplomacy to sort out the argument. But what is it about?
Disputed territory: See the picture below. The Galwan Valley is very close to the disputed area of Aksai Chin (Ladakh), which both India and China claim as theirs.
How can both sides claim the area as their own?
India and China share a border that is about 2,200 miles long, and surrounds the Himalayas. The two countries have fought over parts of this border for the past 80 years. The British who were ruling India in the late 1800s drew two lines as borders between the two countries, and demarcated a Western Sector in Kashmir and an Eastern Sector near Sikkim. China didn’t agree to these borders. Upon gaining its independence from the British in 1947, India’s leaders stated that the British-drawn boundaries were final and claimed some of the disputed territories. This included the Aksai Chin Region near the Galwan Valley.
India and China do not see eye to eye on the border, and this has led to fights between the two countries as they both try to stake their claim on these disputed regions. India and China fought a 32 day war over the Galwan Valley and some other disputed areas in 1962.
The war was settled after the two countries decided to honour a Line of Actual Control (LAC), however this line has still not settled the claims over the disputed areas, and the two sides have maintained an uneasy truce. This has resulted in both sides trying to wrest control at opportune moments, including in 2017 when the Chinese tried to build a road through the Doklam plateau that was marked as Indian territory. Indian troops were able to successfully push the Chinese back on this occasion.
Why get into a conflict at this time? Each side is sending a larger message to the other. China wants greater control along the LAC and parts of South Asia, and has spent money on developing roads and bridges in the region. It has also invested upto $60 billion in developing a trade corridor with Pakistan.
In the second half of 2019, India took over control of the state of Jammu & Kashmir (it was part of India but functioned with special rules), and divided it into the two Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. China got worried because this could serve to block it from accessing its trade corridor or region with Pakistan.
In addition, India has been building similar infrastructure in these areas. It has recently built a road close to the Line of Actual Control in that area, and has reactivated an airfield / air base there as well. This road will allow India to get troops and supplies to the border quickly in case it needs to, and the air base will give it further access to the region. This is upsetting China.
What happens next? Despite multiple rounds of diplomatic negotiations, the two countries with nuclear capabilities haven’t come close to agreeing on most of the boundaries, which serves as a constant source of tension. The good news is that neither side actually wants a full-blown war. Both countries currently have their hands full dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s see how they manage to settle the argument this time.
Written by: Biyash Choksey and Sunaina Murthy.
Sources: The New York Times, BBC, CNN, Vox, Al Jazeera