Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 221, 28 January 2021

India and China: The border disputes expand, despite the ninth round of military talks  
Sukanya Bali

In the news
On 24 January, India and China held its ninth round of Corps Commander meeting. Following the meet, on 25 January, both sides released a joint statement; it said: "The two sides agreed that this round of meeting was positive, practical and constructive, which further enhanced mutual trust and understanding. The two sides agreed to push for an early disengagement of the frontline troops. They also agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, maintain the good momentum of dialogue and negotiation, and hold the 10th round of the Corps Commander level meeting at an early date to jointly advance de-escalation."

On 25 January, India Today reported a new military standoff in Sikkim in which "around 20 soldiers were injured on the Chinese side and four on the Indian side." However, the Global Times has replied, the above report on injuries of both PLA and Indian soldiers as "fake". It said: "There is no record of this incident in the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) front line patrol logs". 

Issues at large 
First, the border standoff remains unresolved and, worse, is getting aggravated. Despite the multiple rounds of negotiations since 2020, the border standoff is expanding from the western sector (Ladakh) to the others in Arunachal Pradesh. In 202, the death of 20 Indian soldiers' and an unspecified number of Chinese causalities raised concerns over the border escalations seen since 1962. In November 2020, NDTV revealed China had created a new village in the Arunachal Pradesh. The satellite imagery shows new structure built verifying it with empty hillside two years ago. Now, the latest report of another standoff in Sikkim region. On 20 January, a face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers wounded soldiers on both sides. Reuters reported that India army had clarified "it was a minor face-off at Nakula which was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols". 

Second, the political gap between the two countries, not limited only to the border talks. Despite the Wuhan and Mahabalipuram summits between the two counties during the recent period at the highest levels, there is a political gap. Furthermore, the gap is increasing and should be worrisome.

Third, the rising sentiments against the other, fanned by media. Recent statements would reflect this. Global times has accused Indian media of hyping Sinophobic sentiments.  It said that the Indian media's habitual "rumormongering" may hurt New Delhi's interest.  In the recent clash at Nakula, Indian media claimed that China suffered five times more casualties in the latest round in an attempt to show preparedness and valor. Qian Feng, Director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, said fanning anti-China flames and confusing people will, in the end, harm their own reputations and India's national interests.

In perspective 
The multiple dialogues over the recent border standoffs have not yielded results, and the larger political dialogues at the summit levels, also have not brought the two countries any closer. Both the developments should be worrisome for the bilateral relationship.

The immediate need should be to prevent/avoid any further standoff along the border or to expand the theatre of confrontations. With jingoism on the rise, a military confrontation may further the polarization between the two countries. With the immediate focus on COVID vaccination and economic recovery, both countries cannot afford their resources being pulled off on other directions.

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