More information has come to light regarding a border skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops that occurred in a disputed region on June 15th.
The incident began when an Indian patrol spotted Chinese tents and observation towers on its side of the border, a clear violation of a de-escalation agreement signed by both sides on June 6th.
Indian troops were busy dismantling the Chinese structures when Chinese troops arrived, prompting a violent hand-to-hand conflict that killed 20 Indian soldiers and wounded dozens more. China’s state-run Global Times confirmed casualties on its side, but did not provide details.
The clash occurred in Galwan Valley in Ladakh, a disputed area where the LAC (border) is not clearly marked. The Ladakh region is crucial for China’s access to Central Asia and its CPEC project with Pakistan, in which it has invested $60 billion.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian claims Indian troops breached the LAC in several areas. “The rights and wrongs…are very clear and the responsibility rests entirely with the Indian side,” he said.
Analysts note two reasons for the clash: India’s decision to repeal a law that had granted autonomy to disputed areas in Ladakh region and China’s pushback against India’s construction of two roads into Ladakh.
According to satellite imagery, China is also building roads in Ladakh and is possibly damming the river in Galwan Valley. China already occupies 15,000 square miles of Indian territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas.
The June 15th clash spurred widespread protest in India, with residents burning Chinese flags and destroying Chinese-made cell phones. Indians are calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boycott Chinese products, though this is unlikely to happen considering his recent denial of the Chinese incursion.
China is India’s largest trading partner, which may explain Modi’s unwillingness to address the incursion. Annual trade between the two nations represents $92 billion annually, but is heavily skewed in favor of China.
Analysts are expecting India to respond to China’s behavior in the Himalayas by increasing diplomatic efforts with the US and other nations that are also worried about China’s growing aggression and influence.
“India will try to align closer to the US and others also wanting to check China,” says Manoj Joshi of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “India will step up diplomatic efforts with like-minded countries like the US, UK, Australia, and Japan.”
For the United States, this issue could represent a major opportunity to advance its interests with India and to boost India’s position as a geopolitical buffer against China’s growing regional influence.