India China tensions over Ladakh could explode at any time

India and China's relations keep worsening due to the Ladakh border conflict. Despite agreeing on de-escalation, they have beefed up their military presence and troops are constantly involved in skirmishes.

China India tensions

The recent clashes between China and India are a manifestation of long-standing tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, according to an expert on South Asian geopolitics.

“The Himalayan border problem between Pakistan, India, and China is not a new issue – it goes back at least 70 years,” Umit Alperen, a researcher and professor, said in an online discussion with Cemal Demir, head of the Istanbul-based South Asia Strategic Research Center (GASAM).

India China tensions at Ladakh have been mounting 

China and India’s military clash can be seen as the surfacing of a tension that has been there for some time, and an escalation accelerated by domestic, regional, and global factors, he said.

“With the [coronavirus] pandemic, economic problems have increased in all countries. In order to preserve their power, governments worldwide have started using a populist and nationalistic discourse in domestic policies, which is also reflected in their foreign policies,” he said.

The escalation between Beijing and New Delhi, he added, has proven that relations between Asia’s major powers are “on thin ice amid a changing and more chaotic global system.”

Reputation of the foes in the international community

The face-off in June can be seen as a turning point in relations between China, India, and the US, as well as China-Russia-India and China-Pakistan ties, according to Alperen.

He said further confrontation can affect China and India’s image in the international community, and also have a greater economic and political impact.

Alperen said China will now focus more on its strategic cooperation with Pakistan, as the June 15 clash with India showed that Beijing needs to put in more effort to make its South Asia policies a success.

Read more: Geo-political implications of the China-India standoff at Ladakh

According to Alperen, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Beijing’s heavy investments in Sri Lanka – all part of the grand Belt and Road Initiative – have left India surrounded in a region of growing Chinese influence.

To counter this, he said, New Delhi will be looking to boost ties with countries such as Japan, Australia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

 India and China beefs up their military strength at border

After the latest round of talks between military commanders last week, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the two sides had “agreed to take necessary measures to promote a cooling of the situation”.

But they made similar comments after a fist-fight in May that proved to be a warmup for the medieval-style battle at Galwan.

Read more: India reinforced Ladakh as China holds ground: sources

Images taken by the US satellite firm Maxar showed trucks and huts at camps on the river at 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) near the scene of the fighting. It was not clear whose army they were.

Indian jets regularly took off Wednesday from a military base in Leh, the main Indian town in the contested region, and headed towards the mountainous border 240 kilometres (150 miles) away.

There were also checkpoints on main roads out Leh and a frenzy of military activity around the main town, which lies at 3,500 metres (11,500 feet).

Residents reported long lines of military trucks and artillery on roads near Leh.

“We now have a good strength present in the area,” an official of the Indian army’s Northern Command said on condition of anonymity, referring to the reinforcements.

Tashi Chhepal, a retired Indian army captain who has served in the area and is based in Leh, said the mobilisation was unprecedented in a sensitive region touching Pakistan as well as China.

“I haven’t seen this kind of military movement before,” he said.

Peace talks over Ladakh

Earlier, India and China had agreed on border de-escalation as their foreign ministers spoke on the phone and agreed to abide by existing bilateral agreements to ensure peace and tranquillity on their disputed Himalayan border. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in border skirmishes with the Chinese military will “not be in vain,” and vowed a response if there is further provocation.

Read more: India and China agree on de-escalation at Ladakh border

“I would like to assure the country that the sacrifice of our soldiers will not be in vain. For us, the unity and integrity of the country is the most important… India wants peace but is capable of giving a reply if provoked,” Modi said in a televised address.

The PM’s comments came after deadly skirmishes in the mountainous Galwan Valley, a disputed region near Kashmir that is claimed by both China and India as sovereign territory.

Shortly after Modi’s comments the Chinese foreign ministry said that it has agreed with India to de-escalate the situation as soon as possible.

Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk

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