Indian defense sources say Indian and Chinese troops have been injured in face hand-to-hand fighting along their disputed border; the brawl reportedly took place six or seven days ago in the northern Sikkim which borders Tibet. The Chinese foreign ministry would not comment on the latest report but gave a statement that “I want to stress that China’s border troops are committed to upholding peace and stability along the border with India. We urge the Indian side to work in the same way with us and refrain from any action that may escalate or complicate the situation. We hope that both sides will take the correct precautions to manage their differences and the response there from the Chinese foreign ministry”.
This has been a flashpoint for decades that The two enemy countries fought a major war over their disputed border in 1962. Then it was relatively stable for many decades. After the 1980’s last year’s events were a major indeed. A deadly clash between these two armies in the galwan river valley not in Sikkim. But much further to the west in a province called Ladakh a deadly clash between these two armies indicated that the ability of these two countries to manage their border dispute peacefully without weapons without guns without fatalities and loss of life that it had essentially collapsed.
It wasn’t just the galwan clash but we also saw the first ever use of firearms since the 1970s on that border. Last year what we have to remember there is in the context of this. The latest clash is that there are still a substantial number of armed forces on both sides that are still deployed to the front lines very near the disputed line of actual control. In these very harsh winter months and so the risk of these flare-ups is going to be ever-present. Here the question arises that is this all just about sovereignty. The answer is yes of course it is partly about sovereignty. This is the territory that both sides claim. Is the kind of meeting point of empires the British empire, the Chinese empires and so like border lands between empires. it’s a very blurred fuzzy area and you have two rising Asian powers. both nuclear powers both with large rising economies that want to stake their claim in the world want to lay claim to this and don’t want to give an inch to the other side. it’s also about a much wider sense of distrust and hostility that has erupted between India and China in recent years.
That is not just about land in these mountainous areas. That has very limited practical utility. it’s also about things like India’s protection of the Dalai lama and the Tibet movement which china considers to be a separate menace. It’s about India’s increasing diplomatic proximity to the United States, China’s rival and about competition in the Indian ocean with an increasing number of Chinese ships flooding into those traditional maritime areas to India south. in other words it isn’t just about sovereignty it’s about geopolitical competition as much as anything else.
When we see all kinds of clashes on both sides of this border. Here the question arises that is there a genuine concern then that misunderstandings and miss calculations could lead to actual war there. I think for a long time that fear was suppressed by the fact that as big as this dispute was as serious as it was that the two sides had agreed lots of things to ease tensions. They had agreed that soldiers on patrol would not use their weapons. they wouldn’t fire their weapons under any circumstances. they had agreed that if a patrol came across another patrol in a disputed area they would make their statements say you’re in my territory you’re in my territory but then they’d go their separate ways. they wouldn’t follow each other and they’d built up this edifice of diplomatic agreements to lower the temperature. What last year showed is that amid all of these wider diplomatic tensions that I mentioned not just to do with the border but to do with trade and ideology and geopolitical competition. Those undertakings have broken down and therefore even very small clashes orbits of friction do have the ability and the risk of spiraling into something much bigger with lots of firepower deployed in pretty close proximity between these two states.