The recent border stand-off between India and China in the Galwan valley is being compared to developments in the South China Sea, which has become a matter of concern for the US.
Beijing recently pitched 70-80 tents in the Galwan valley, sent additional troops and parked heavy vehicles and monitoring equipment to the area and warned the Indian Army about “obstructing normal patrols and operations of Chinese border troops”.
Soon after this development, Alice G Wells, US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, said: “If you look at the South China Sea, there is a method here to Chinese operations and it is that constant aggression, the constant to shift the norms, to shift is the status quo.”
Despite two rounds of talks between the commanders of the India-China forces to de-escalate the situation in the Galwan Valley, the matter remained unresolved.
The ongoing tensions flared after over 250 troops from India and China clashed near eastern Ladakh on the night of 5-6 May and in north Sikkim on 9 May.
Sputnik spoke to Nitin A Gokhale, a national security analyst and an author of seven books on military and strategy, about the ongoing statnd-off.
Nitin A Gokhale: China can claim anything but the valley is divided between the two countries. Actually Aksai Chin area, according to the Indian parliament resolution, belongs to India which is taken over by China after 1962 war. So it is technically India’s area, which is occupied by China. Therefore, the Galwan River also is Indian Territory.
Sputnik: What is the importance of this valley for India and why is China opposing Delhi's ambitions?
Nitin A Gokhale: Last year, India completed a 255 km road called DS-DBO road that is Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) Road in Ladakh which provides access to Depsang plain, Galwan Valley and goes up to Karakoram Pass. Earlier this road was not motor-able or was not available to the Indian troops and Indian people. Now that India has made the road, infrastructure and 37 bridges etc., China is saying that they should not be building this but India is building all these in its own territory. So irrespective of what India does China cannot object to it. Therefore, the dispute is without a basis. China is just trying to be provocative.
Sputnik: Has the Indian Army and foreign ministry downplayed the current stand-off? If so, what could be the reason behind it?
Nitin A Gokhale: It is not matter of downplaying. If you look at the history of last 10 years, forget about before that, every year there have been skirmishes or stand-offs or some kind of clash between Indian and Chinese troops, either at Pangong Tso or Demchok or Chumur or at Galwan or at DBO, so there is nothing new in this. India is playing it cool and saying this is usual and we will deal with it according to all the mechanisms that are available between the two countries. There are so many confidence-building measures that were decided at Wuhan or Mamallapuram. India is going by the rule book but China is trying to provoke India into taking some drastic action which India will not take as India knows there are enough mechanisms to resolve this issue.
Sputnik: Media reports suggest that both sides are moving their troops or equipment in the contested region.
Nitin A Gokhale: India had moved one full brigade of 3,000 troops in 2013 when there was a stand-off at Depsang. Since then India has been rotating its troops as additional troops have been there for the last six-seven years now. And China wants to just show or signal that it is trying to pressurise India by bringing in more troops or moving in more equipment in the region. But from Indian side, there are no additional troops that have gone there. I don’t think there is something to be really alarmed about because those troops are meant for that area.
Sputnik: The Global Times wrote that if India chooses to irrationally heat up the China-India border tension, it will undermine the long term economic recovery and hinder its focus on COVID-19 prevention work. What's your view on this argument?
Nitin A Gokhale: It is only lecturing India. Same thing can be said about China that if it heats up the border, they will get distracted and it will have its own problems for China. India is not heating up the border. This is every summer, they keep on doing this and India is only responding to how China is trying to provoke India. If you look at it, every year between April to October you will find two or three incidents like this [border skirmishes] either at Pangong Tso or Demchok or DBO wherever. Nobody is downplaying it but nobody is unnecessarily alarmed. These are the issue which keep cropping up once in a while.
Sputnik: Do you find any Chinese support in Nepal’s border stand-off with India?
Nitin A Gokhale: All I can say is that China is trying these tactics to distract countries from COVID-19 - whether it be in the East China Sea, the South China Sea or with India in the Himalayan region. China is trying to take advantage of the uncertainty and pre-occupation that countries have. So this is the common thread in all these incidents happening across the region.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.