This confrontation comes at an unfortunate moment when the world is combating the coronavirus pandemic
Twenty days after 250 of their troops got into a fist-brawl at the Pangong Tso Lake in Eastern Ladakh, India and China have still not sorted out what presumably were localised irritants on the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries. The Chinese blame the confrontations on India’s building of roads in the Galwan Valley. India says these roads, meant for locals in this sparsely populated region, are well within its side of the LAC.
Matters escalated with the fisticuffs on May 5 in Ladakh, and a brawl on May 9 in Sikkim involving 100 soldiers; the visual sighting of each other’s military helicopters at the LAC; an Indian Sukhoi LAC sortie inside Indian airspace; and the erection of 100 Chinese tents in the Galwan Valley along with the movement of heavy vehicles and monitoring equipment.
The Army denied reports that Indian soldiers were briefly detained after the Ladakh brawl, though some Indian injuries were serious enough for evacuation to Leh for treatment.
Reports indicate that about 1,000 Chinese troops crossed the LAC at each of three points; as a result, now, at various points spanning 80 km, Indian and Chinese troops are stationed about half a kilometre from each other. India may be moving in more troops.
This confrontation comes at an unfortunate moment when the world is combating the coronavirus pandemic. Cases have this weekend surged in two regions according to the World Health Organisation: Latin America and India. New Delhi not only has to reckon with the surge in cases but also the economic crisis caused by its lockdown of the country that is lifting unevenly. Eastern Command had to send three columns of soldiers to Bengal to help the state government in relief and rescue operations in the aftermath of cyclone Amphan. One hopes the government does not get distracted by the events on the LAC from its task of preventing deaths and reviving the economy.
The two governments’ special representatives have spent years evolving mechanisms and protocols to deal with such local flare-ups, but five meetings between local commanders from both sides seemed to have done little to lower temperatures. A visit by Army chief General M.M. Naravane to XIV Corps headquarters in Leh on Friday appears to have helped, but there is still a ways to go.
No doubt the Chinese feel irked with India of late: over the construction on our side of the LAC; over India’s move to curb Chinese foreign investment; over India’s splitting of Ladakh, of which Aksai Chin is historically a part, into a separate Union Territory; over the Army chief’s recent pointing to China as being the agent provocateur for the recent border quarrel between India and Nepal; and with India’s open call for companies to shift base from China to India.
China might also be looking to distract from its recent imposition of security laws on Hong Kong. We would urge India to hold firm without escalating the skirmishes to a political level.