Utsari highlights these strategic events and joins all the dots, to remind you to look at the bigger picture of Chinese adventurism during the dreadful times.
“Great historical progress always happens after a major disaster,” said Xi Jinping during a recent visit to Xi’an Jiaotong University. The question is if the “major disaster” the current pandemic or China has got more to show. Anyways, 2020 is that cursed year which doesn’t seem to get any better. We’re almost halfway through this year and these months were easy for none. Yet, it is alluring to see the nations forget the differences, unite, and fight the pandemic together. With the ongoing geopolitical changes between nations, there’s an unignored entity whose growing dominance is bothering the big players like the USA, Japan, the UK, and Australia. China’s (mis)handling of the virus and instances of unapologetic opportunist behaviour gives rise to many questions. The recent being, why has china ratcheted the border issues with India during the global crisis? But first things first, what caused the flare-up in the Indo China border? Or wait, which border? Line of Actual Control? Well, where is it? Does no one know? What!
Line of Actual Control-
The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a demarcation line that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, formed after the 1962 war. The demarcation existed as the informal cease-fire line between India and China after the 1962 war until 1993, when its existence was officially accepted as the ‘Line of Actual Control’ in a bilateral agreement. But the twist here is that the line has not been mutually demarcated yet. The mountainous terrain adds up to the confusion/deliberate intrusion on where exactly the LAC is. It has been this way since 1993, with China intruding significantly deep into Indian territory 3 times already.
Upon insisting China, to fulfill a mutual agreement with India on the demarcation of LAC, it has consistently resisted this motion. Patrolling is carried out by both the countries on the “supposed border” sometimes leading to intrusions- be it deliberate or unintended.
The skirmishes in the borders have continued due to the uncertain LAC, few of which were the 2013 Daulat Beg Oldi Sector (DBO) incident and the 2017 Doklam stand-off. The Daulat Beg Oldie standoff took place when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA) established its camp 30km south off Daulat Beg Oldi near the Aksai Chin-Ladakh Line of Actual Control (LAC), a region where both the countries avoid establishing bases and fortifications. To this, the Indian Army reacted by setting up their camp 300m away from theirs. This was followed by a 3-week long negotiation between the countries during which the Chinese position was reinforced and supported by trucks and helicopters.
Image Source- India Today
The Doklam standoff took place when the Chinese started construction of a road in Doklam near a trijunction border area(of Bhutan, India, China). The region is claimed by both China and India’s ally Bhutan. Seeing the Chinese construction vehicles and road-building equipment extend an existing road southward in Doklam, Bhutan sought India’s help. This construction was a threat to Indian sovereignty as it was approaching the strategic Siliguri corridor that connects West Bengal to the rest of India. Hence, Indian troops armed with weapons and two bulldozers crossed the Sikkim border into Doklam to stop the Chinese troops from constructing the road. This followed by 3 months of negotiation with the respective countries withdrawing their troops from the face-off point.
Image Source: Clear IAS
The above face-offs make it evident that China has relentlessly tried to secure regions which are highly controversial and not under any country’s jurisdiction. However, the 2020 faceoff gives us a different narrative. The sudden heavy deployment by PLA at the following spots further hints China’s tactics to influence India’s geopolitical relations with the big players.
Pangong Tso is a famous lake where the climax of the film 3 idiots took place. It is also where the first Indo-China tumult of 2020 began on May 5. As the lake extends 134km from India to the Tibetan Autonomous Region(China), the countries have different perceptions of LAC along the lake. Yes, it is as vague as it seems. The respective armies engaged in a fistfight and stone-pelting due to the same. Indian Ambassador P. Stobdan says that the Chinese are trying to overtake the lake, which would essentially force India to redraw its borders, also possibly exposing Siachen to Chinese presence.
Sikkim is a northeastern state that shares a boundary with China. It would be utterly hilarious if the Chinese troops enter into the Muguthang Valley(in India) and shout “This (Sikkim) is not your land, this is not Indian territory… so just go back”. Well, what were they thinking? This happened on May 10, 2020. Following this, an Indian lieutenant punched a Chinese major on his nose leading to an immature catfight between the troops. China for an obvious reason did not report this incident but rather said “Local fights are normal. Chinese soldiers always uphold peace and tranquillity along the border.”
Image source- Aljazeera
Chinese troops trespassing across the Indian territory into the Galwan Valley took India by surprise as that region had never seen disputes since 1962, considering it to be “settled” but now, China thinks otherwise. On 21st May the PLA intruded 3 km into this Indian territory, pitching tents, deploying heavy vehicles and monitoring equipment, citing objections on Indian road construction within (undisputed) Indian territory. Hilarious, yet again.
China for world dominance?
The point of the above intrusions by the Chinese during the global crisis does not really concern their claim over the regions but tells a different story. A story of intimidating India in the time of crisis, of asserting the power that stands threatened as QUAD countries (Japan, Australia, USA, India) grow closer, of viewing an unsettled border as leverage against India, one of the many pressure points it could use to keep India off-guard its current political crisis in Hong Kong.
Though the two countries have decided to hold bilateral talks on the recent dispute, it is unambiguous from the old habits of China to not come in final terms with the demarcation of the LAC, but to use the border dispute as a weapon in the future- which might align with “great historical progress” as Xi Jinping puts it. Exceptionally, the 2020 standoff witnessed extraordinarily heavy deployment of the Chinese army, thus, making it a planned move not by local commanders but by Beijing.
The world is upset with the opaque Communist Party of China for its delayed response to Coronavirus. This is a blow to the 2-year-old Presidency- Xi Jinping’s credibility.
After trying to reason China’s sudden adventurism in the Indo-China border, the following developments might help us join the dots as to why China did what it did-
- Hong Kong- “A blow to autonomy”
China’s motive to annex Hong Kong was evident from the Hong Kong Extradition Bill which led to the 2019 Hong Kong riots. This move allows China to attain a more prominent hold in Hong Kong jurisdiction and pave the way to the National Security Bill.
The National Security Bill is the current hot topic as its draft is passed by the rubber-stamp Chinese parliament this week. The bill criminalizes any act that would subvert(undermine) state power, secession(breaking away from the country), organise and carry out terrorist activities and other behaviour that endangers national security, interfere with the internal affairs of Hong Kong and involve foreign or external powers.
The passing of this bill will erode the autonomy of Hong Kong and violate Article 23 of the Basic Law which upholds China as nothing more than “one nation two systems” – Mainland China and Hong Kong, thus revoking Hong Kong’s Autonomy.
The purpose of this brief is to consciously remind you that this revokes free will of the people of Hong Kong and makes them liable to a shady government that is not keen on standing criticism. US, UK, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, etc condemn the bill as it gives China a free will to control Hong Kong’s trade, keep the Belt and Road Initiative in motion and thus, endanger their vested trade interest in Hong Kong.
What is India’s concern? India is a part of the QUAD(Japan, India, US, Australia). These countries have liberal trade relations with Hong Kong. This bill will not only hamper those relations but can also empower China’s maritime hegemony in Asia. The realisation of BRI will make Chinese hegemony a reality and being a trade rival of China, India would not want that.
Hence, Trump announced he would begin taking steps to revoke Hong Kong’s favoured trade status with the United States. Meanwhile, the UK widens visa right offers to 3 million residents in Hong Kong.
These countries have also mutually agreed upon India hoisting the Hong Kong issue with China. Right after which, China briefed key nations, including India on “upholding national security” in Hong Kong, claiming that it is “purely China’s internal affair and no foreign country may interfere in this matter.” while criminalizing the same in the infamous National Security Bill.
- India-Australia Maritime Alliance
This particular entente is a potential threat to China’s growing power in the South China Sea. So much so that it can completely block the maritime of the BRI. In a few days, Narendra Modi and Australian PM Scott Morrison are supposed to hold a virtual bilateral summit to expand existing maritime navigation and counter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. It is expected to sign a pact that allows mutual use of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands(India) and Cocos Keeling Islands(Australia) to establish military bases and keep Chinese movements in check. In March 2020, China had deployed a fleet of underwater drones in the Indian Ocean which made 3,400 observations.
India considers China’s growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean as an exclusive threat. India has never before explicitly criticized China’s conduct in the SCS until May 22, 2020, its principal concern being its deepening economic and commercial ties to Southeast Asia under the new Act East Policy – especially with Indonesia and Vietnam and infringement on the exclusive territorial zone of Indian Ocean.
Andaman Nicobar Islands and Cocos Keeling Islands
When Delhi defends nautical norms and the right to access common maritime spaces, it is usually part of a message sent to Beijing to keep India’s sphere of interest and influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean clear.
The talks of the virtual summit were being held in the first week of May, right after which the border dispute broke out. It will take place on 4th June, as the Indo China border dispute, makes it a more crucial summit in this hour.
- Whitewashing the mistakes
The Chinese Communist Party needs to consolidate domestic power after irresponsibly handling the outbreak of Coronavirus- hiding the data from its citizens and allegedly sealing the whistleblowers of the potential pandemic. That typically looks like what the Chinese government can do. Before the faith of the Chinese slips from its acrimonious government, what would be better than inciting a feeling of patriotism in the citizens? Hence, pulling a loose string of India would not do any harm, given that its strategic political pressure has a higher stake in it.
As the National Security Law violates the autonomy of Hong Kong, many powerful nations condemn the smothering action taken by the Chinese government. The National People’s Congress voted 2,878 to 1 in favor of the decision to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong. Considering India can be a viable threat and along with its international allies can create political pressure on the Chinese government with regards to this bill, the Indo China border dispute is a convincing diversion for India from the current political change in China that stands denounced worldwide. Moreover, the two actions- of passing this draft in the parliament and softening its hold in the Indo China border took place simultaneously.
With the Chinese ambassador to India saying “The two countries must act in unity, pose no threats to each, adhere to a basic judgment that China and India are each other’s opportunity, and thus see each other’s developments in the correct way and enhance strategic mutual trust”, a larger picture draws our attention.
The Chinese tactics to keep India engaged in Indo China diplomacy and meanwhile force itself on Hong Kong and the South China Sea during the global pandemic (which stirred from its mishandling of the virus), leaves the world stunned on how strategically China is taking utmost advantage of the most vulnerable times in history. The future stands extremely unpredictable with China’s “great historical progress”, the USA terminating its relations with the WHO, and UK’s new proposal to form an alliance D10 (UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, India, South Korea, and Australia). The world will witness critical shifts in the most dynamic geopolitical relations in the upcoming months and simultaneously fight the deadly virus.
– Utsari Gupta Bhaya,
Writer, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata.