India China Confiicľ - Play Hoľ Play Cool
By- Vinit Wahi
The latest December 9 faceoff between Indian and Chinese troops at the Yangtse area near Tawang in the eastern sector of the disputed border only goes on to show China’s interest in Arunachal Pradesh. It has a twin aim to gain leverage in any future settlement of the contentious border and use it as a bargaining chip for an eventual swap and recognition by India of Aksai chin occupation. The skirmishes have come some two- and- half years after soldiers of two countries were engaged in deadly hand to hand combat at Galwan valley in Ladakh in western sector of the line of actual control leading to casualties on both sides.
Even though Indian troops handled the conflict in a firm and resolute manner, the situation led to minor injuries to a few personnel from both sides, according to a statement of the Indian Army. “Both sides immediately disengaged from the area,” the army said. The face-off at the site was defused with commanders holding a flag meeting to restore peace and tranquility, it added.
In fact, the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told the Parliament that Chinese troops “tried to transgress the LAC in Tawang to unilaterally alter the LAC in the area.” A “physical scuffle” followed, and Indian soldiers “compelled them to return to their posts.” However, the Opposition, concerned that the government might have downplayed the Indian casualties, stalled parliamentary proceedings demanding a detailed debate and reply by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Parliament was told there were no fatalities.
Be as it may, at the heart of the matter is the location of the skirmishes which are of vital importance to China. Observers here say the latest incident is the outcome of a systematic attempt by the Chinese to take control of the strategically important 5,180-meter-high peak. Apparently, the PLA attempted to take control of this peak even in October 2021 which also culminated in clashes between soldiers of two sides. Indeed, till the mid- 1980s China pushed for India to endorse Beijing’s control over Aksai Chin in return for Beijing accepting India’s control over Arunachal Pradesh.
The Himalayan state is important to China because control over it is vital for India’s defense of its North East. In particular Tawang is critical to this defense. The strategic Bum La Pass, through which PLA troops invaded the North East in 1962, lies north of the Tawang town. Besides, Tawang which was headquarters of South Tibet earlier, has cultural, religious, and ecclesiastical links to Tibet as well. Its monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the world outside Lhasa. The Dalai Lama first took shelter here when he fled his country in 1959.
In fact, in this context it would only be appropriate to quote an excerpt from the book Understanding the India- China border: The enduring threat of war in the high Himalaya, authored by Manoj Joshi released this year. It clearly says at the end of 2021 both the countries have tackled the situation on LAC with great deal of discretion. In the light of both sides having augmented their infrastructure construction and the enhancement of the quality of their military deployments on either side of the LAC as also qualitative change in the patterns of deployment of both armies, the enduring threat of war remains in the Himalayas. And since both the Asian giants are expanding their war-making capacity, it does enhance the risk of conflict, it says.
But despite all this the relations between the two countries have reached a certain level of stability, the author says. And more importantly, trade has grown phenomenally, the clash of 2020 and Covid pandemic notwithstanding. As the official figures suggest, India’s trade with China grew a substantial 43 per cent which was in line with the increase of Chinese trade with its other major trading partners- the US, ASEAN and EU –to name a few. But what takes the cake here is the fact that Indian increase was the highest, something that indicates a level of mutual benefit between the two.