High up in the Himalayas, Indian and Chinese armed forces are cautiously facing a controversial border region that has become the scene of a tense standoff between the two nuclear powers.
The conflict in the remote Galwan Valley, which stretches across the common border, was brought to life on Monday with the murder of 20 Indian soldiers. It was the first reported death in 45 years. China has not announced whether its armed forces have suffered, according to a report in its state newspaper, the global times.
The deaths have drawn the world to a region that the two most populous countries have sought for decades. The effects go far beyond the lonely snow-capped mountains of this geopolitically complex region.
Chinese and Indian forces clashed along the 2,100-mile line of actual control, a line of demarcation that was established after a war between the two nations in 1962 that led to an uneasy armistice.
Reports say that no shots have been fired since 1975 the Indian press, but occasionally troops get into hand-to-hand fights and throw stones.
What happened this week
The details of what exactly happened on Monday are still in short supply.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on a phone call to Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Wednesday that Indian troops had crossed the control line to “deliberately provoke and even violently attack Chinese officers and soldiers,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
With the same reputation, Jaishankar accused China of wanting to build a “structure” in the Galwan Valley on the Indian side of the line of actual control, the de facto border.
“The Chinese side has taken deliberate and planned measures that were directly responsible for the resulting violence and loss,” the Indian State Department said in a statement. “It reflected the intention to change the facts on the ground, which is against all of our agreements not to change the status quo.”
Why is that happening now?
For weeks, thousands of troops have been camped on both sides of the Galwan Valley in the mountain region of Ladakh.
The tense standoff began in early May when Indian officials said Chinese soldiers crossed the Ladakh border at three different points, set up tents and guard posts, and ignored verbal warnings to leave. according to The Associated Press. This sparked screaming matches, stone throws and even fist fights between the two sides, much of which was repeated on television news channels and social media, the news agency reported.
What are the possible reasons for the clashes?
Under the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, the country wants to be loud Gareth price, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, a think tank for international affairs in London.
“The only country that does not respect India as much as India wants is China,” he said. “India wants to be seen as equivalent to China and speaks of a multipolar Asia, but then China sees it as a dominance in Asia.”
Price said, however, that India is unlikely to possibly provoke China into war, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
“It also knows that China is bigger,” he said.
China, on the other hand, could have possible reasons to provoke a confrontation with India, Price said, although he warned that overarching motivation had also remained unclear there.
Reasons raised by analysts include China’s objection to India’s construction of a Galwan Valley road connecting the region with a runway, New Delhi’s growing close alliance with Washington, and Beijing’s support for Pakistan in the dispute with India over the region Cashmere.
Others also pointed to China’s increasing assertiveness in the region as a possible broader explanation.
Walter Ladwig III, a lecturer in international relations at King’s College London, has pointed out his more energetic behavior in the South China Sea and Hong Kong in recent months.
“It is definitely clear that China is much more energetic at the moment than in the past,” he said.
“They are much more important in all theaters, both domestically and in terms of their external relations,” said Nick Reynolds, research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.
How dangerous is the collision?
India has declared that both sides have agreed “not to escalate things and instead to ensure peace and quiet”.
Modi repeated this, but also emphasized that India would give an “appropriate response” to any provocation. “India will protect every inch of the country and its self-respect,” he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that after the Monday clash, both sides agreed to “cool the current situation as soon as possible” and “ensure peace and quiet in the border areas.”
It’s about a lot. Last year, China increased its nuclear arsenal from 290 to 320 warheads and India from 130-140 to 150 warheads the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute or SIPRI.
Experts say the broader dispute itself won’t go away as quickly, and Price points out that an agreement between New Delhi and Beijing after 2017 clashes did nothing to stop this week’s death.
“No troops have died on this border since 1975, so it’s kind of new territory,” he said.
Both Price and Reynolds said it was difficult for both governments to back down on their domestic policies. But Reynolds said international pressure could help, and Price said there could be a way for both countries to win but at the same time withdraw from each other.
“Due to the height and terrain of this area, it is highly unlikely that this will escalate on a large scale,” said Ladwig. “But there are many opportunities for small mistakes, skirmishes and accidents.”
Adela Suliman, Vivi Wu, Ed Flanagan and The Associated Press contributed.