It is increasingly becoming clear that China is in no mood to “disengage” its troops from the Ladakh region even as New Delhi and Beijing are officially going for the next round of talks to defuse military tension along the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border between the two Asian giants.
The question is why the Dragon refuses to fly away from the western Himalayan border and wants to keep it “inflamed” for an indefinite period. Perhaps no one could answer this better than Swedish journalist, author, and strategic analyst Bertil Lintner who believes the conflict is about “something much bigger”.
“A desire on the part of China to punish India for rejecting President Xi Jinping’s pet project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” may have resulted in the tension along the disputed border, maintains Lintner, who has penned several books, including the classic, China’s India War: Collision Course on the Roof of the World (Oxford University Press/2018).
It’s not just India, but there are nearly 20 other neighbors that seem annoyed by China’s strong-arm tactics with respect to their borders.
“China is not looking for solutions to its border problems or other bilateral issues with its neighbors. China wants to use such conflicts to its strategic advantage,” Lintner told The EurasianTimes.
In his latest article for Asia Times, Lintner has analyzed China’s border disputes with as many as 20 neighbors, saying the conflicts are “more about leverage than territory”.
“From contested Himalayan peaks to disputed waters in the South China Sea, China’s borders have appeared to become more tumultuous coincident with its recent fast rise from a developing world backwater to a superpower competing for global influence with the United States.
“But while China’s many contested border areas may appear to have become more inflamed coincident with its rising global ambitions, the reality is that Beijing has long stoked and sustained borderland disputes as a tactic to win concessions on wider issues with its neighbors,” Lintner wrote in his article.
Past Tense, Future Imperfect
The India-China border conflict has a bloody history. In the summer of 1960, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met his Indian counterpart Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi in order to find a solution to the border row.
He made an offer that China would recognize India’s claim over Arunachal up to the McMohan Line provided New Delhi considered China’s claim over the Aksai Chin peninsula. Proposed by British administrator Sir Henry McMahon in 1914, the eponymous line is the eastern portion of the LAC between Tibet and India’s Northeast.
Nehru turned down the offer, following which China took a series of aggressive military actions in the next two years, including the resumption of forward patrols in Ladakh that it had ceased two years prior. On October 20, 1962, the Chinese army captured the areas along the contested border, resulting in a war.
It took over Arunachal’s Tawang in the east, and Rezang La in Chusul in the west. The troops advanced towards Tezpur town in Assam before Beijing unilaterally declared a ceasefire on November 20. As many as 1,338 Indian and 722 PLA soldiers were killed in the month-long war.
While China had withdrawn from India’s Northeast, it retained Aksai Chin in the west, a sore point in its relations with nuclear-armed India. It has occupied 38,000 sq km of Aksai Chin from India, the latter claims.