India-China tensions rise amid blame game over border rows

Indian and Chinese soldiers have been involved in two skirmishes. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - Tensions between India and China are spiking along their undemarcated border, with analysts in India examining if this could be part of a larger pattern of Chinese assertiveness, or if it is a local flare up gone wrong.

Indian and Chinese soldiers have been involved in two skirmishes - one in the north-eastern state of Sikkim, and the other in the union territory of Ladakh.

In Naku La, Sikkim on May 10, Chinese and Indian soldiers pelted stones at each other and traded blows, resulting in minor injuries to four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers.

In another scuffle, troops clashed on the intervening night of May 5 and 6 on the northern bank of the Pangong Tso lake, which extends from Ladakh to the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

While local military talks were initiated and both countries have so far underlined how dialogue is crucial to resolving disagreements, tensions have remained amid troop buildup by both sides in the two areas.

China has blamed India for trespassing while India has accused China of blocking its patrols.

"The incident in Sikkim took place along a settled boundary and in really difficult terrain, which means the Chinese are pushing aggressively to undermine their own commitments made to India on Sikkim being a part of India.

"Overall, it can be read as part of a larger Chinese assertiveness that doesn't respect territorial integrity of other nations," said Dr Jabin T. Jacob, Associate Professor at Shiv Nadar University.

"Once incidents on the LAC (Line of Actual Control) scale up with the involvement of higher authorities in the respective capitals, then I think we can believe that things will move more cautiously; these incidents will hopefully not turn into flashpoints."

The flareup is unusual because it involved physical fighting and stone pelting, and it also comes at a time when China has been blamed for the coronavirus pandemic by the United States and tensions have been rising in the South China Sea.

India has accused China of being the aggressor.

"All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India's normal patrolling patterns," India's ministry of external affairs spokesman Anurag Srivastava

"Indian side remains firmly committed to work for the common objective of maintenance of peace and tranquillity in border areas. This is an essential prerequisite to the further development of Indian-China bilateral relations."

The two neighbours have an uneasy relationship because of Beijing's growing presence in India's neighbourhood and due to a festering dispute in several areas along their 4,000km long undemarcated border.

China claims the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which has been in Indian hands since British days, as its own,

And India says China's occupation of Aksai Chin, a 38,000 sq km of territory in the Indian union territory of Ladakh, is illegal

In 2017, a 74-day border stand-off between their militaries in Doklam, an area strategically close to India's Silliguri Corridor, had threatened bilateral ties.

The issue was resolved through diplomacy, with Prime Minister Modi travelling to Wuhan in central China for an informal summit withPresident Xi Jinping. The two sides agreed to "strategic guidance to their respective militaries" to strengthen communication and build trust.

Still, special representative talks on the border, which have been on since the 1990s, have had little movement.

"The interruption in serious border negotiations in the past six or seven years has left the two militaries scrambling for minor tactical advantages in the disputed zones along the Line of Actual Control," said Dr Zorawar Daulet Singh, a historian and strategist in New Delhi.

"If this trend is not arrested by the political leaderships, such crises will one day escalate into an armed clash."

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