FAQs – India China 2020 Standoff – Ladakh & Sikkim | Security Risks Asia Humane ClubMade with Humane Club

FAQs – India China 2020 Standoff – Ladakh & Sikkim

Published Jun 04, 2020
Updated Jun 04, 2020

Background

India and China have a legacy boundary issue spanning the 3488 Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh Sector and the International Boundary in the Central Sector, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The latter portion of the International Boundary is also quite erroneously referred to as LAC.

As per a report in the Indian Express of June 4, there are 23 contested areas on the LAC to include 11 in Ladakh under the western sector, four in the middle or central sector and eight in the eastern sector. In Arunachal, the flashpoints are Namkha Chu, Sumdorong Chu, Asaphila, Dichu, Longju Bisa, Yangtse, Lamang and “Fish Tail-I and II” in Dibang Valley and the middle or Central sector Barahoti, Kaurik Mormi Dogri and Shipki La which see frequent transgressions. The areas in the Ladakh Sector are believed to be Trig Heights (Points 5459 and 5495) and Demchok, North Samar Lungpa, east of Point 6556, north of Kugrang river, area of Kongka La, Spanggur Gap and east of Mount Sajum opposite Dumchele, North bank of Pangong Tso, southern bank of Pangong Tso and Chumar. The Indian Express reports that these areas have been identified over a period as disputed.

However Galwan Valley and Hot Springs where the transgressions have taken place have not been disputed in the past.

While there are a number of agreements and SOPs, the propensity of both armies to carry out aggressive patrolling to support claims leads to transgressions during the summer season from May to October. Transgressions have varied between 300 to 700 every year.

In April [month and date needs confirmation] and May 2020, a large number of Chinese Border Defence Regiment (BDR) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel reportedly transgressed into two areas, Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh.  Naku La in Sikkim was a limited skirmish that has cooled off as we know. Thus while the standoff has been broken off in Sikkim, that in Eastern Ladakh is continuing. China has also increased patrolling in Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in Eastern Ladakh. With limited information of activities on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, speculation is rife of events and happenings on this important segment of the India China boundary.

Quite evidently both India and China are playing down the string of transgressions as physical movement across the differing perceptions of the LAC are known in the public domain. However this time there is a concern that the transgression in the Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso is an intrusion that is the Chinese are not likely to restore status quo.

Here is a detailed examination in the Frequently Asked Questions or FAQ format.   

Where are the Standoffs Happening?

Points of Standoff

Ladakh

Galwan Valley  – Likely end April – Galwan junction, Patrol Point (PP) 14, PP 15 and Gogra PP 17/Hot Springs.

Chinese troops have transgressed across the LAC and are perched on the Indian side of the line. This is a settled area with both sides agreeing to the LAC. Thus the transgression is raising a new dispute.

Pangong Tso – Finger 2 – May 5

The series of Fingers astride this high altitude lake over 135 kms long and 5 to 6 kms wide have been a bone of contention. Here again the Chinese have or are constructing a Bunker that is on Finger 2 which has been accepted as Indian part of the LAC. As per the Hindu, Chinese troops are close to Finger 2 area of Pangong Tso one-third of which is held by India while the rest is held by China.

There are eight ‘Fingers’ or spurs which India claims that is up to ‘Finger 8’ but holds only till ‘Finger 4.’ With the Chinese now having intruded further inwards the access to Finger 2 and beyond to Finger 4 is being denied for Indian troops.

Sikkim – May 9

Naku La Muguthang Valley

         The Naku La standoff in Sikkim above the Muguthang Valley has seen physical clashes but the situation there appears to have calmed down for now. Four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers were injured at Naku La during the confrontation.  This was the first occurrence as there has been a limited history of disputes.  In 2017, a 73-day standoff occurred in Doklam on the tip of Chumbi Valley.  This raised concerns as the Sikkim boundary is settled. Naku La is not one of the 23 disputed areas that witness frequent transgressions and troop face-offs. Thus, Chinese patrolling activities in this area is an indicator of expanding claims in Sikkim or possibly a diversion to actions in Eastern Ladakh

Have there been any physical clashes?

Physical clashes with injuries to both sides have been reported though these have been downplayed. There is speculation that some Indian soldiers have been detained across the LAC by the Chinese which have been dismissed by the Indian Army. “There has been no detention of Indian soldiers at the borders. We categorically deny this. It only hurts national interests when media outlets publish unsubstantiated news,” army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand said

What is the level of forces build up by both sides?

Matching troop build up by both sides in positions occupied at the beginning of the standoff in the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Tso Finger. Artillery guns, infantry combat vehicles and heavy military equipment has been brought in by the two armies in the rear areas. There appears to be a matching build up if media sources are to be believed. Combat Aircraft and communication helicopter sorties. Satellite imagery OSINT specialists are releasing a stream of images showing tents, vehicles and in some even artillery guns. Sand boxes showing the terrain in Ladakh on which formations in Xijang Military District commonly known as Tibet Military Command have been doing the rounds on social media. These are no doubt of good information value and enlarge the perspective on the terrain features but not much reliance can be placed for extracting policy relevant inferences.

What are the Likely Objectives on Both Sides?

India Likely Objective

Tactical -Status quo in Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley. Continued improvement of defence posture in terms of infrastructure.

Operational/Strategic

Assert own perception of Line of Actual Control.

China seems to contend that “China-India border tension flares up in Galwan Valley, won’t lead to another ‘Doklam standoff’: experts,” in an article by Global Times Editor Chen Zhuo as, “India is merely seeking to divert its domestic attention and pressure since the COVID-19 pandemic impacted its economy, and China has a military advantage in the Galwan Valley region. So, the Indian military won’t escalate the incident.”

China Likely Objective

Tactical- Denial of infrastructure build up by the Indian forces,

The 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road provides direct access to the Depsang area bulge a key area of confrontation in 2013 and Galwan Valley and reaches the base of the Karakoram Pass. This provide the Indian side land access to this vital zone which is at the end of the road so to say in Ladakh. The Chinese already have very good communications in Aksai Chin which have been constructed over the years.

Operational – Demonstrate objection to construction of infrastructure, which has been a past practice, then this could be a reverse of Doklam in 2017 when India had objected to the construction of a road by the Chinese in an area on the India-Bhutan-China trijunction.

Coordination of actions by the Western Theatre Command based in Chengdu is likely, given that transgressions have taken place in two military districts – Xinjiang Military District and Xizang Military District of the Command. Naku La, however, could also be seen as a local transgression.

Assert own perception of Line of Actual Control

Strategic

Sustain claim to Aksai Chin – diffuse Indian assertion of regaining the area as indicated by the Home Minister Shri Amit Shah in parliament in the first week of August 2019.

Chinese Likely Political Objectives

Boost leadership [Xi Jinping] image at the Third session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing in the wake of increasing criticism for handling COVID 10. In such a scenario tempers may cool off by the first week of June

What Measures have been taken to defuse the crisis so far?

Measures to Defuse Crisis

         Indian Defence minister Rajnath Singh confirmed in a media interview to channel Aaj Taak as also to News 18 that bilateral talks were on at military and diplomatic levels with China to resolve the row.

         Chinese envoy Sun Weidong, while fielding questions during the webinar organised by the Confederation of Young Leaders (CYL), attempted to down play the incident stating that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping had built a platform for smooth relations which should not be disturbed. Without any reference whatsoever to the standoff, Sun said: “We should adhere to the basic judgment that China and India are each other’s opportunities and pose no threat to each other. We need to see each other’s development in a correct way and enhance strategic mutual trust”.

         “We should correctly view our differences and never let the differences shadow the overall situation of bilateral cooperation. At the same time, we should gradually seek understanding through communication and constantly resolve differences.” The “‘Dragon and Elephant dancing together’ is the only right choice for China and India” as it serves the fundamental interests of both countries, which should also strengthen cooperation in investment, production and other fields”, Sun said.

At the ground level despite a series of BPMs or Border Personnel Meetings no resolution has been achieved so far.

What has been the official stance by China and India on these developments?

Official Statements

China Ministry of Defence Statements

“China’s position on the China-India border is clear. The Chinese border troops are committed to maintaining peace and tranquility in the border areas,” defence ministry spokesperson, Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang said at the monthly ministry briefing on 28 May. “At present, the situation in the China-India border areas is stable and controllable on the whole. The two sides have the ability to communicate and solve relevant issues through the established border-related mechanisms and diplomatic channels,” Ren added.

A Report in the Global Times denotes the Chinese response, “In a resolute response to India’s recent, illegal construction of defence facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region, Chinese border defence troops have made the necessary moves and enhanced control measures,” the report said, quoting a Chinese military source. China says the area is located in the Hotan prefecture of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). “Since early May, India has been crossing the boundary line in the Galwan Valley region and entering Chinese territory.  “The Indian-side built defence fortifications and obstacles to disrupt Chinese border defence troops’ normal patrol activities, purposefully instigated conflicts and attempted to unilaterally change the current border control situation,” the report said.

The report said the region belongs to China. “The Galwan Valley region is Chinese territory, and the local border control situation was very clear. The actions by the Indian side have seriously violated China and India’s agreements on border issues, violated China’s territorial sovereignty and harmed military relations between the two countries, according to the source”. “…China’s border defence troops have taken necessary measures to strengthen an on-the-spot response and control of border areas, resolutely safeguarding China’s sovereignty and security and maintaining peace and stability in border areas,” report added

China Ministry of Foreign Affairs [MFA]

Foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian in a regular news briefing on 29 May said, “We have been implementing the important consensus reached by leaders of both countries, observing the bilateral agreements and have been committed to safeguarding territorial sovereignty and security, stability and peace in the border area.”

He rejected the US offer to mediate saying, “Between China and India, we have existing border-related mechanisms and communication channels. We are capable of properly resolving the issues between us through dialogue and consultation. We do not need the intervention of the third party.”

India Ministry of External Affairs

Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in a media briefing on May 21, 2020 denied that the Indian troops have taken any cross border transgressions and said, “Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the Line of Actual Control in the western sector or the Sikkim sector is not accurate. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously. All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC”.     

“In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns. Indian side has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management. At the same time, we are deeply committed to ensuring India’s sovereignty and security. The Indian troops strictly follow the procedures laid down in various bilateral agreements and protocols to resolve any situations which may arise due to difference in perception of the LAC,” the Spokesperson added.

“The two sides have established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue. Both sides remain engaged with each other to address any immediate issues. In accordance with the consensus reached in Chennai, Indian side remains firmly committed to work for the common objective of maintenance of peace and tranquility in border areas. This is an essential prerequisite to the further development of India-China bilateral relations,” he added.

Official Spokesperson Mr. Anurag Srivastava said, “India and China attach utmost importance to maintenance of peace and tranquility in all areas of India-China border regions. Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in their informal Summits in Wuhan (2018) and in Chennai (2019) had reaffirmed that both sides will continue to make efforts to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas. This is essential for the overall development of the bilateral relations. The two leaders had also directed their militaries to earnestly implement various confidence building measures agreed upon between the two sides, including the principle of mutual and equal security, and strengthen existing institutional arrangements and information sharing mechanisms to prevent incidents in border regions”.

“As a result, India-China border has largely been peaceful. Occasionally however on account of difference in perception of the alignment of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), situations have arisen on the ground that could have been avoided if we had a common perception of the LAC. The two sides have established mechanisms to resolve such situations as and when they arise including Border Personnel Meeting, Flag Meetings, and Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs as well as diplomatic channels. The Indian side remains committed to the objective of maintaining peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas,”  he added

What is the United States Response to the developments?

         United States outgoing head of the US state department’s South and Central Asian bureau, Alice Wells in response to a question in a media briefing indicated, “The flare-ups on the border, I think, are a reminder that Chinese aggression is not always just rhetorical. And so whether it’s in the South China Sea or whether it’s along the border with India, we continue to see provocations and disturbing behaviour by China that raises questions about how China seeks to use its growing power.” She added, “What we want to see is an international system that provides benefit to everyone and not a system in which there is suzerainty to China. And so I think in this instance, the border disputes are a reminder of the threat posed by China.”

         Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao in response said: “The [US] diplomat’s remarks are just nonsense. China’s position on the China-India boundary issue is consistent and clear. China’s border troops firmly safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and security and firmly dealt with the Indian side’s cross-over and infringement activities.” Zhao added, “We urge the Indian side to work together with us, abide by our leadership’s important consensus, comply with the agreements signed, refrain from unilateral actions complicating the situation.” He further said, “We hope they will make concrete efforts for peace and tranquillity in the border region. There are consultations and diplomatic channels between the two sides that have nothing to do with the US.”

In a tweet the U.S. President Donald Trump showed willingness to mediate, “We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you,” Trump had said in a tweet. Later in a White House Press Conference Mr Trump claimed that Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi was, “not in a good mood,” due to the standoff on the Ladakh border

         In response to US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate between Delhi and Beijing over tensions along the Line of Actual Control , India said it is already engaged with China to “peacefully resolve” the issue. “We are engaged with China to peacefully resolve this issue,” said the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.

How is information being managed by both sides?

Information Disruption

Importantly while during the Doklam standoff in 2017, there was aggressive media posturing by the Chinese foreign ministry, this has been a relatively low key on activities in the Galwan or Pangong Tso area. One interpretation could be that this being a transgression by the Chinese troops, Beijing has been relatively less aggressive in the media thought the Global Times has been active in May attempting to portray the incident as an outcome of India attempting to divert internal attention from COVID 19 crisis or pushing China to the wall in tandem with the united States.

         Virtual online contestation by supporters on both sides including Twitter and What’s App with circulation of videos, targeting of pro India and pro China handles by opponents, with Pakistan also chipping in to target the Indian twitteratti.

         Satellite pictures, videos in pictures of violent clashes between Indian Army-ITBP troops and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers were posted armed with stones, rods and sticks

         The Indian Army refused to fall in the information trap and refuted the violence shown in the pictures and videos.

         “It has been brought to our notice that videos are doing the rounds in social media on an incident on the borders. The contents  of videos being circulated are not authenticated. The attempt to link them with the present situation on the northern borders is malafide,” said Army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand on 31 May. “Currently, no violence is happening. We strongly condemn attempts to sensationalize issues impacting national security, which are likely to vitiate the current situation on the borders,” he added.

What are the Parallel Developments in East and South China Sea?

East and South China Sea- China MFA Responses to Media Queries

AFP: Two Chinese coast guard vessels chased a Japanese fishing boat near the Diaoyu Island. So Japan lodged an official protest with China over this incident. What is your position on that incident? Did China offer any explanation or apology to the Japanese side?

Zhao Lijian: China Coast Guard discovered a Japanese fishing boat illegally operating in China’s territorial sea while performing regular patrol in waters around Diaoyu Dao. The Chinese Coast Guard vessels followed and monitored the boat in accordance with law, asking it to immediately halt its activities and leave the relevant waters, and responded to the illegal disruption by a Japan Coast Guard vessel that came to the spot. The Chinese side has lodged representations with the Japanese side through diplomatic channels, urging it to immediately stop its infringements.

I want to stress that Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands are an inherent part of China’s territory, and it is our inherent right to carry out patrols and law enforcement activities in these waters. We ask the Japanese side to honor its four-point principled agreement with China, avoid triggering more incidents relating to the Diaoyu Dao and make concrete efforts for stability in the East China Sea.

The Paper: Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement on May 8 that Vietnam protests against China’s unilateral fishing ban in the South China Sea and demands that China stop further complicating the situation in the South China Sea. The Vietnam Fisheries Society said China’s regulation violates Vietnam’s “sovereignty” over the Xisha Islands and relevant waters, asking fishermen to enhance production and uphold their “legitimate interests”. I wonder if you have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: Xisha Islands are indisputably Chinese territory. According to international law and China’s domestic law, China enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters in the South China Sea. It is a legitimate measure to lawfully exercise administrative rights and fulfill international obligations by practicing fishing moratorium in summer in relevant waters of the South China Sea. It’s for the conservation and sustainable development of fishery resources in the South China Sea.

Vietnam has no right to make unwarranted accusations against China, not to mention encouraging its fishermen to infringe upon China’s rights and interests and undermining the sustainable development of fishery resources in the South China Sea. [Source –

On the South China Sea standoff, Anurag Srivastava, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in a media briefing on May 21 said, “ We firmly stand with the freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in these international waterways, in accordance with international law. India also believes that any differences be resolved peacefully by respecting the legal and diplomatic processes and without resorting to threat or use of force”. Yes, you can take the other questions after this.

What are the options ahead?

Likely Way Ahead

A pullback by the Chinese troops from Galwan is not anticipated until the objectives stated above are achieved.  Political initiative on both sides has not been indicated openly and there does not appear to be any immediate trigger such as during Doklam 2017, when a BRICS summit which was to be held during the period led to defusing the situation.

From the Indian side pull back of the Chinese troops to own side of perceived LAC in Galwan and Pangong Tso would be the core demand. The Chinese may demand cessation of infrastructure construction in this area. This could be the point of resolution in case the objective is tactical or operational as indicated above. 

To achieve these objectives, first India may attempt to send patrols deeper into the Galwan and Pangong Tso area even though there is heavy build up of Chinese troops in both the points. Such a move by India, if tactically feasible based on the terrain and deployment runs the risk of a physical clash. Other option will remain resolution through military [unlikely to achieve a result], diplomatic or political dialogue.

In case the interjection is linked with Chinese objections to change of status of Ladakh by the Indian parliament through a resolution on 05 August last year which saw strong objections from Beijing, India is not likely to accept a possible Chinese demand for changing the status of the UT of Ladakh, due to sovereignty issues and link with Jammu and Kashmir and in turn Pakistan.

In case there is no resolution, Galwan intrusion can become a perpetual standoff, with possible pull out during the winter. Both sides may rush in the next summer in 2021 to reclaim the areas.

Whatever be the case, India China relations are back to the point at which these were in July 2017 during the Doklam Standoff. The impasse has to be resolved bilaterally, how the situation builds up remains to be seen?