The clash between Chinese and Indian Army personnel at the Galwan area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on June 15 have impacted the future trajectory of India-China relationship and diluted the arduously worked out rules of engagement along the border, a European think tank has said.
“The Chinese attack has led to China’s most serious security situation with India in recent years, and flared emotions have meant that the potential for rapid escalation is rife,” European Foundation for South Asian Studies said in a report published on Friday.
The think tank said that the Chinese attack marks the “21st century turning point for India and China”, and that the two countries face a future characterized by deepened distrust and potential fresh conflict.
“The attack on Indian troops comes on the back of an increasing Chinese assertiveness, be it in the South China Sea, Taiwan or Hong Kong. China has been flexing its muscle across the region, intercepting Malaysian and Vietnamese vessels in the South China Sea, seizing new powers over Hong Kong and twice sailing an aircraft carrier through the sensitive Taiwan Strait,” the report said.
“The face-off between the two sides blows away the ambiguity over the fact that China has been testing the limits of international laws, conventions and norms, and the attack on the LAC was the latest and most serious manifestation”, it added.
India responded to this Chinese aggression by sending in reinforcements to the area, and since then hundreds of soldiers from the two countries have been facing off just a few hundred meters from each other in the valley of the Galwan river.
“To enable quicker military mobilization and strategic advance, India is carrying out various infrastructure projects near the LAC, especially the road construction to link forward points along the LAC to the nearest airport at Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh,” the EFSAS said in the report.
Furthermore, India has opposed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the multi-billion dollar flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which passes through in close proximity to the area where the construction is taking place.
The protocols in place at the LAC since the early 1990s prevented troops from both sides from firing weapons in order to avoid escalation. Both sides called for reinforcements after the Indian troops retaliated to the attacks by Chinese soldiers on June 15 in the Galwan valley.
The ensuing melee went on for hours in the darkness, and was bloody and messy. The harsh climatic conditions at the altitude of 5000 meters also contributed to the number of casualties.
“Despite China’s belligerence, its reluctance to make public the number of troops that it lost on 15 June displayed its soft underbelly at the LAC. It also reflected a contradictory wish to prevent the clashes from escalating. The response of the Chinese government to the LAC clash was also conspicuously low-key, unlike incidents in its other military theaters such as the Taiwan Strait, where minor provocations by the US military often lead to bellicose warnings from Beijing,” the think tank noted.
In addition to the above, the absence of a formal boundary and the differing perceptions regarding the alignment of the LAC have repeatedly resulted in disagreements and violent clashes, and this situation is not going to change till a formal border is agreed upon.