The India-China Border Dispute Explained

On 15th June 2020, 20 soldiers of the Indian Army were martyred in a border skirmish in the Galwan Valley region of Ladakh. This recent skirmish, initiated by the People’s Liberation Army of China was claimed as a result of “provocation by Indian soldiers”, who illegally crossed over the border twice. This claim has been refuted by India, as the Galwan valley has been considered as a part of India.

The attack was unexpected, for the soldiers were actually returning back to their bases, after successful de-escalation in the region. Moreover, this was the first casualties in the region as a result of any Sino-Indo clash. This is a result of a 1996 treaty which prohibits the use of guns, grenades, and other firearms in the region to ensure peace and stability. The attackers, to bypass these obligations probably used sticks, stones and rods, and resorted to shoving soldiers in the valley below, so as to not violate such bilateral provisions. Nevertheless, other provisions of the said treaty, as well as other treaties were still violated.

BBC News | Weapons reported to be used by the People’s Liberation Army to attack Indian troops

This image was circulated by a senior military official of the Indian Army anonymously. While the officials of either country have commented on this image, there has been widespread outrage amongst ordinary Indians. Defence analyst Ajai Shukla refers to use of these weapons as “Barbaric”, where Chinese soldiers used such rudimentary weapons in an unprovoked attack on Indian soldiers, where some soldiers even fell down in the valley. According to some sources like ANI News, and General V.K. Singh, there have been nearly 40 causalities inflicted upon the People’s Liberation Army(PLA).

Border disputes between the 2- Nuclear-armed countries is not new, and both countries have recognised this in the past. While some incidents like the Doklam issue has been seen as major points of escalation, such issues were always peacefully resolved without any causalities.

The borders around the Line of Actual Control (LoAC), the meeting point between Indian and Chinese administered borders are poorly demarcated, which has led to several incidents in the past. In this dispute, the clash happened in the Galwan valley, when the Chinese government unilaterally tried to change its border to Include the entire galwan valley under its territory, a claim which has never been recognised in the past, including Chinese state-sponsored maps. The reasons for this are believed to be the recent construction activities in the region, wherein the construction of a new road in the Galwan-Shyok Region by the Border Roads Organisation(BRO) meant strategic advantages to India, which China saw as a threat to its existing claims in the region.

BBC News | Kashmir map Depicting the LoAC and the Site of Dispute

Beijing now claims the entire Galwan valley and the areas of the Galwan-Shyok confluence as its sovereign territory, which India has outrightly rejected. Traditionally, the west side of the Galwan valley has been recognised as a part of Ladakh, whereas the East of the valley has been recognised as territory controlled by China.

Note- This does not mean that New Delhi acknowledges that the Aksai Chin Region as sovereign Chinese territory. It is still maintained that China illegally occupies nearly 38,000 Square Kilometres of Land in the Region.

India and China have had two major conflicts in the past. One, the Sino-Indo war of 1962, which India lost, and the 1967 Nathu-La Clashes, in which India defeated the People’s Liberation Army’s attack, which is regarded by some as the 2nd Sino-Indo War.

Since then, the region has seen a few minor skirmishes, where soldiers from both sides were minorly injured, the most recent of them being in the Doklam Plateau Region. India was able to successfully stop road construction by the Chinese in the region where the borders of Bhutan and China meet. This construction project could have threatened the sovereignty of Bhutan and affect the security of India.

While these skirmishes happened, some Important bilateral agreements were Signed Between India and China – Notably the agreements of 1993,1996 and 2013.

The agreement of 1993 between the External Affairs ministers of India and China affirmed the commitment of both countries for peace and stability in the Region. The agreement stated that both countries would respect the Line of Actual Control, would not encroach upon the borders and amicably resolve any arising disputes.

The agreement of 1996 further codified certain principles to follow, wherein both sides agreed, among other things to reduce heavy artillery and weapons, as well as guns and other arms in the region. Armed conflict and use of hazardous weapons were not allowed within 2 kilometres of the LoAC, and strict parameters were laid down for several types of military situations.

Another agreement in 2013 also introduced a few clauses and affirmed the importance of maintaining peace in the region, as well the importance of resolution of conflict through diplomatic channels to resolve conflict. Other agreements also exist to ensure peace and stability in the region.

One can reasonably assume that China, on the basis of the prima-facie evidence has in fact violated several provisions of these peace agreements, wherein they engaged in an unprovoked, barbaric attack on the Indian soldiers. This is contrary to Beijing’s promise, who on June 11 had said that both sides will disengage without violence.

This attack By China Is highly condemnable. While the political and diplomatic tussles exist, one must not forget the human face of conflict, which in this case led to the martyrdom of 20 brave soldiers of the Indian Army.

The Hindustan Times Instagram Official | The Martyrs of the Galwan Valley altercation

The Indian Armed forced have been reportedly given full powers to retaliate “as they see fit”, by the defence ministry. The Indian Armed Forces are on Full alert, with the air force already placing key fighter jets in a state of readiness and the army moving troops to the region. The navy has also increased its surveillance and monitoring activities.

While both sides wanted to deescalate the situation peacefully, it is, as of now an uncertain situation. However, the Indian armed forces are ready to respond to any threat posed by the aggressors and keep our country safe. A future state of conflict could lead to actions being taken by the Indian Government under article 356 of the Constitution of India, enabling the government to implement a State of emergency, and also take decisions under the defence of India Act of 1962.

Full forms-

LoAC- Line of Actual control, the Border recognised between India and China for security and border control

Aksai Chin- Chinese occupied Kashmir, (COK), 38,000 Sq. Kms, which is the territorial claim of India, Illegally occupied by china

PLA- People’s Liberation Army, which is the official name of the Chinese Armed Forces

The Bilateral Agreements and legislation attached:


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