This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
WARSAW, (BM) – The fight for sticks and stones that took place in June between Chinese and Indian soldiers still raises emotions. This and the concentration of forces of both countries that followed before and especially after this event seems to be detrimental to the People’s Republic of China for many reasons.
Especially that in this case only the Indian and Western media are heard in the world. The latter seem to support – more likely – the version of events promoted by New Delhi – that Chinese soldiers prepared an “ambush” for Indian mountain infantry. The question begs itself: why China in such a difficult moment an additional trouble?
The People’s Republic of China is in a difficult situation today. That no one doubts today that the Covid-19 epidemic has emerged from its territory. The political costs of this fact are huge for Beijing. Information came to light that the party and its leader Xi Jinping decided at some point to refrain from informing the world about the threat of the virus.
Suddenly, people began to talk loudly about the “communist regime” in Beijing, despite the fact that they had closed their eyes for decades in the name of profit. What’s more, the economic slowdown – compounded by China’s losing economic war against US President Donald Trump – has become even more of a problem after the viral scandal.
Many countries that until now felt threatened by the PRC, but did not have the courage or were aware that they would not find international support for the expansive policy of the Asian power, now they are arming themselves and adopting aggressive rhetoric.
These include Australia and the Far Eastern “tigers” including in particular the “rebellious province” of Taiwan, which is increasingly advocating independence. Added to this is the escalating situation in Hong Kong.
China, currently having a Cold War with the United States, has always been afraid of conflict on two fronts: with the US and India at the same time. Now it seems that they have come closer to this scenario than ever before. Why and how does it look from Beijing’s point of view?
From China’s point of view, the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic meant that their prestige and the sympathy of other states towards them fell, and the Chinese Communist Party may have the feeling of being under siege. This feeling is justified for many reasons. Why, then, antagonize India, opening an “additional political front” though (still?) Not military.
The issue of three disputed territories – the western (where the fighting took place, that is, part of the Ladakh region of 30,000 km2), the central (next to Nepal) and the eastern (90,000 km2 theoretically belonging to the Indian state of Arunachal) – has been present since the late 1940s last century.
Both countries have never agreed on the establishment of borders in these regions, and de facto there are two lines of demarcation between them, the so-called line of actual control (LAC) with a total length of 3488 km. The first line was established in 1959 and the Chinese recognize it.
The second, more favorable to India, was established in September 1962, which triggered the monthly war that India lost. Nevertheless, New Delhi still recognizes this very border. In all three places there is no agreement as to the demarcation of territories, but in the eastern and central regions, where posts were built and both parties maintain a permanent presence, there is a kind of silent agreement recognizing the existing status quo.
It is different in the western region, i.e. in Ladakh, where demarcation lines have been designated in inaccessible high-mountainous regions. None of the parties managed to create permanent posts there, which would be difficult to maintain, especially in winter. Hence the room for various interpretations as to where the LOC goes.
In recent years, both sides have started to build infrastructure in this region and its vicinity – first China and recently India. In connection with the investments of the latter, Indian soldiers began to venture into the region belonging – according to India – to India, and according to the PRC – to China.
Much for China
For China, the two disputed territories are particularly important: eastern and western. The famous 6th Dalai Lama was born in the east in the 17th century, which is why his possession determines the possession of Tibet. Based on this, India could one day detach the province from China, because it would imply that the Dalai Lama is an Indian citizen.
In turn, the disputed western territory, i.e. Ladakh, is not so much political as geographical. The Chinese road G 219 passes this way – the only land connection between Tibet and the Sinciang-Uighur Autonomous Region.
This route is strategically important, because if a national uprising occurred in one of these provinces, then it would be easy to send reinforcements and supplies from the other. Cutting this connection would be risky from China’s point of view.
The connection in the mountain province is also important for the construction of the Chinese road network, which is currently conducted not inside the country (it has already been expanded there) but in border areas and going “outside”.
As part of the construction of land trade routes in Eurasia, thanks to which the Chinese will no longer have to be afraid of being cut off from sea trade routes and raw materials. These communication exits “outside” are conducted in five directions, to: North Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Russia, Mongolia and just India.
The construction of these connections can be perceived as an expansion. It is no accident that the program for the construction of commercial roads “outside” began in 2016, and in 2017 there were the first incidents with Indian soldiers.
Construction of facilities near inaccessible disputed areas aroused suspicions in India about the desire to establish primacy over the disputed territory and caused a reaction.
The race of both sides is currently underway in the development of infrastructure on both sides of the contractual border. It is because of him that there are clashes in the territory considered by both parties as their own.
The Chinese point of view
From China’s point of view (it does not matter whether it is right or not) they are not the aggressor but India that is trying to take advantage of Beijing’s current weakness.
This is how construction was read in spring this year. Indian infrastructure in the disputed territory and venturing into the “wrong” control zone of Indian soldiers. That is why the Chinese decided to counteract. Yes, not to show weakness.
Image losses (there was a brutal fight, Indian soldiers were killed) in the situation of the state’s collapsing reputation were considered acceptable. It was also apparently acceptable to antagonize India, which had been drifting for years with the alliance with the United States.
Washington has been selling New Delhi for some time modern equipment, including P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters, and also offers a specially prepared version of the F-16 fighter F-21 (F / A-18 anyway) proposing to transfer their production to India.
At the same time, American relations with India’s greatest enemy, Pakistan, which maintains close relations with Beijing, are deteriorating.
The PRC adopted a similar tough stance in its relations with other neighbors, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and of course Taiwan. The conflict with India, which in Chinese perception tried to stick China with a “knife in the back” at a time when they are increasingly in conflict with the US, may also be an attempt to discredit India.
Show them their weaknesses and place in the world – not as a competitive power but a poorer neighbor who can be, at most, a recipient of Chinese exports. The international humiliation of India would also negatively affect their development as a competitive power in the region.
For now, however, it is difficult to talk about this type of consequences of the battle in the Himalayas and one can rather talk about the mobilization of Indian society, the growth and acceleration of investment in defense.
In fact, however, the incident may be only the introduction to a real conflict in which the PRC may want to “quickly and efficiently” defeat India, prove to the world its absolute advantage over its neighbor and break the basis for its further development.
Because at a time when the Chinese economy is shaking and the employees’ salaries are standing still and the demographic development collapsed, it is the popular, growing technically and militarily weak “the world’s biggest democracy” has a chance to take over China’s role in the global economy.
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