China & India: From rivalry to enmity?

    14-Dec-2022
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At least six Indian soldiers were injured in another border skirmish with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Tawang sector of Arunchal Pradesh on December 9. This was not an isolated case of border skirmish between soldiers of the two neighbouring countries. There had been many reports of border skirmishes and direct confrontation between Indian soldiers and the Chinese PLA. After the tense stand-off at Doklam in June, 2017, the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA were engaged in a bloody skirmish at Galwan Valley in June 2020 which resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and four PLA troops. The bloody Galwan clash could have been a flash point for a disastrous regional war but the two sides somehow agreed to withdraw from their respective positions after several rounds of negotiation. Not long after the Galwan clash, there were media reports about establishment of a Chinese village comprising 100 homes inside the Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was quoted by media as commenting “China has undertaken construction activities in the past several years along the border areas, including in the area that it has illegally occupied over decades. India has neither accepted such illegal occupation of our territory nor has it accepted the unjustified Chinese claims.” This very comment has authenticated the media reports about the establishment of a Chinese village on the banks of Tsari Chu river in Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh, regardless of whether India has accepted it or not. One primary factor which has been fuelling these skirmishes and confrontation is the contested boundary line. The two countries even fought a full scale war in 1962 over the disputed boundary line.  The dispute over the demarcation of their common frontier in the Himalayan foothills, from Kashmir in the West to Arunachal Pradesh in the East is ostensibly a source of serious tension in its own right, and as such, this is one area which demands diplomatic engagement of the two countries at the highest level.
The simmering tension was there since the colonial era but it is not the primary cause of the new rivalry. The principal factors for the new rivalry are the advancement in military technologies and growing spheres of economic influence. The long standing rivalry between the world’s two most populous countries is no longer a secret, and New Delhi and Beijing have been eyeing each other warily for quite some time. This contest for regional hegemony between China and India is now glaringly visible in many neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Over the years, the rivalry between the two countries is fast taking the form of sworn enmity. Given the growing enmity between the two countries, any border skirmish has all the potential to spark a full scale war. In the event of a war, Bhutan will be the first casualty and it can spread to Tibet, Ladakh (Kashmir), Arunachal Pradesh, the whole North East and the neighbouring provinces of China. The people of these regions are the ones who would suffer the biggest casualty in the event of a war. Manipur has had a fair experience of the collateral damages done to her when imperial powers fought against each other on her soil during the Second World War.  But war can never be a solution to any problem in this age of nuclear weaponry. If at all, a war breaks out, it may not be confined to a single front. Even a war of limited period will do great harm to the economies of both the countries. Border disputes are there everywhere across the world between every two neighbouring countries. It would be sheer political immaturity if such disputes are allowed to spark any full scale war. Both China and India need to shed all hawkish policies, cast away domineering postures and adopt a win-win strategy of reconciliation.