Construction work by India and China near a disputed border in the Himalayas raises fears of an armed clash between the two countries.
Tensions were exacerbated by a series of roads and airstrips built by India along the 4,000 km Line of Real Control (LAC), the dividing line left by their 1962 war.
By 2022, Narendra Modi’s government hopes to have completed some 44 “strategic routes” along the LAC at a cost of around $ 3 billion, which, among other things, will increase India’s ability to deliver cargo. troops, equipment and supplies to the LAC (see further reading).
China is particularly concerned about the construction of roads and airstrips in Ladakh, an Indian-administered region of northern Kashmir in the far west of the LAC.
One of these roads runs along the Galwan Valley to Daulat Beg Oldi Air Base, which was completed in October.
The Galwan was fought over in 1962 and remains one of the most sensitive areas along the ALC.
Shyam Saran, a former Indian foreign minister, told Reuters news agency: “The [Galwan] The road is very important because it runs parallel to the LAC and is connected at various points to the main supply bases inland. It remains on our side of the LAC. It is the construction along this new alignment that seems to have been questioned by the Chinese. “
According to reports, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is setting up around 100 tents on its side of the LAC, and the Indian Army has set up around 60 on its side. The two also began to dig defenses.
Ashok Kantha, Indian ambassador to China between 2014 and 2016, told the Indian Express newspaper that the presence of Chinese troops in the Galwan was “a major change”.
He said: “They are staying in place, dug and in tents and not just on patrol. These forays are happening in many places and they have become more assertive and aggressive in their behavior.”
He added that the construction of roads was the cause of the increased tension. “On both sides, infrastructure development is underway, and we have caught up considerably over the past eight years in Ladakh… the Chinese fear that we have better access to the border, and their LAC is not the same as ours. . This led to the situation in Galwan. “
In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said China is “committed to safeguarding the security of its national territorial sovereignty, as well as safeguarding peace and stability in the Sino-Indian border areas.”
China is said to be carrying out “massive construction works” at Ngari Gunsa Airport in Tibet, which is used by Chinese military and civil authorities, and which is 200 km from LAC in Ladakh.
Enter the United States and Pakistan
The United States has tended to support India’s position, with a State Department official blaming “China’s disturbing behavior”, such as aggressive patrols along the ALC, of being in the dark. origin of the growing concern.
President Donald Trump stepped into the fray on Wednesday, saying China and India had both been told that “the United States is ready, willing and able to negotiate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. “.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, which is engaged in a cold war with India, weighed on the side of its Chinese ally. In a series of inflammatory tweets, Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned India’s “arrogant expansionist policies”, saying they were “like Nazi Lebensraum”.
Also on Wednesday, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the conflict was sparked by India’s behavior in Ladakh. He said that although China wished to resolve the issues through dialogue, it could not “remain oblivious to India’s illegal constructions.”
Earlier this month, Indian and Chinese soldiers exchanged blows and threw stones at each other near Lake Pangong Tso in Ladakh, injuring around 100.
This dispute concerned a road built by India in the Finger Lake area. Three days later, another incident occurred 1,200 km east, in Nathu La Pass, in the Indian state of Sikkim, after Indian soldiers stopped an PLA patrol.
The last outbreak between the two countries occurred in June 2017, when around 270 Indian soldiers with two bulldozers entered Doklam, east of the LAC, to prevent Chinese troops from building a road over lands claimed by Bhutan. This led to a two-month military build-up that ended after the Chinese halted work on the road.
The Washington Post reports that some Indian analysts are suggesting that the current situation will end in the same way, pointing to a comment made yesterday by Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong, who said, “We should never let differences overshadow our relationship. We have to resolve differences through communication. “
â € ‹Image: Peaceful scene: horses graze at an altitude of 4,600 m in Ladakh (Dreamstime)