A stern message from China

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By Rajiv Jayaram

After India and China went to war in 1962 over a poorly demarcated, porous border more than 3,400 km long, occasional skirmishes between militaries of both nations over the boundary called Line of Actual Control were rare and low key that were quickly defused.

Endless talks are going for decades to settle the border dispute, but the hazard it poses to bilateral relations and regional stability has been clear as both nations execute military infrastructure upgrades along the LAC at a rapid pace and China under President Xi Jinping pushes a strident, uncompromising stance on the country’s land and maritime boundaries all around by bullying neighbours, provoking international alarm.

The uneasy calm on the LAC was shattered on June 15 when a simmering stand-off suddenly escalated into a deadly brawl in the strategic Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, resulting in the death of at least 20 Indian soldiers and heightening tensions between the two nations. Curiously, authoritarian China has not acknowledged any casualties among its forces but it is likely that its People’s Liberation Army have suffered some after hours of hand-to-hand, high-altitude combat.

While reports say that no shots were fired on Monday in accordance with the 1996 bilateral agreement that restrains use of guns or explosives near the LAC, the use of weapons made from iron rods studded with nails used by Chinese soldiers to beat Indian soldiers to death embodies the savagery of the clashes.

Both sides accuse the other of provoking the barbaric attack by staging an incursion across the LAC. However, it occurred as China repeated its devious pattern of pressing territorial claims beyond the boundary and refusing to vacate occupied positions to make it a fait accompli.

With the latest clash, the PLA has sent a stern message to India to refrain from boosting its military capabilities along the LAC while also indicating that Chinese incursions will continue. It is a signal meant to warn that China will assert its claims by intimidating India as it does others, even as it attempts to build a network of client states in South Asia selling its Belt and Road Initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that will pass through disputed parts of India’s borders among them.

The Wuhan and Chennai summitry between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi appears to have done little to moderate China’s belligerent behaviour. The LAC attack comes as Nepal has stirred a row with India, many believe at China’s behest, over a map of their own border regions. Fraying of our ties with Nepal is another symptom of India’s diplomatic failure to counter China.

Standing up to Chinese threat calls for deft diplomacy and recalibration of ties with Beijing on India’s part while remaining on its guard.

The author, a former Economic Times editorial staffer, is a writer and editor living in Delhi.





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