New China-India border flare-up may hamper efforts to resolve dispute
Clash between Chinese and Indian troops in Ladakh could ‘damage’ risk control system, academic says
An alleged attempt by Chinese troops to enter the Ladakh region of India on Tuesday could hamper efforts to resolve a two-month border stand-off in the Doklam plateau.
Indian officials said on Wednesday that Chinese soldiers hurled stones when they attempted to enter disputed areas near the Pangong Lake in Ladakh on Tuesday.
There was an altercation after Indian soldiers intercepted the Chinese patrol, the officials said, with shouting from both sides, and stone-throwing. The confrontation lasted for 30 minutes before the two sides retreated.
The clash comes as a dispute between China and India over the remote Doklam area to the east – a three-way junction between Bhutan, China’s Tibet and India’s Sikkim – enters a third month. That row started when Indian troops stepped in to stop road-building by China on the Himalayan plateau in the middle of June.
Reports of territorial intrusions are common along the 3,500km border, much of which is disputed, but the Ladakh confrontation comes at a sensitive time – as India celebrates its 70th year of independence, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowing to defend against anyone who sought “to act against our country”.
The Indian defence and external affairs ministries did not immediately respond to inquiries from the South China Morning Post, nor did the Chinese defence ministry.
Although the two countries have a system in place – “flag meetings” involving military officials from both sides – to defuse tensions on the border, Tuesday’s clash casts doubt over its effectiveness.
Wang Dehua, a specialist on South Asia at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies, said the scuffle could “damage” that risk control system, although it had so far worked to keep border disputes under control. “This is a long border and sometimes small conflicts are almost inevitable, but we haven’t seen an armed clash in recent decades,” Wang said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that she was not aware of the situation in Ladakh, but called on India to protect the peace and stability of the border region. “What I can tell you is that Chinese border forces have consistently and always dedicated themselves to protecting peace and tranquillity in the China-India border region and we have always patrolled on the Chinese side of the line of control,” Hua said.
Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a researcher with the National University of Singapore, said the Ladakh dispute could add to negative sentiment against China. “Such incidents will strengthen the view that China is not reliable, and therefore, the trust deficit between these two countries could be amplified,” he said. “Doklam has already created a lot of negativity among Indians … Certainly, these incidents will fan anti-China sentiment among common people in India.”