For four weeks, India and China have been involved in a standoff along part of their 3,500km shared border. The two nations fought a war over the border in 1962 and disputes remain unresolved in several areas, causing tensions to rise from time to time. Since this confrontation began last month, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.
How did it all begin?
It erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.
The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Thimphu. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.
India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland.
Indian military officials told regional analyst Subir Bhaumik that they protested and stopped the road-building group, which led Chinese troops to rush Indian positions and smash two bunkers at the nearby Lalten outpost.
“We did not open fire, our boys just created a human wall and stopped the Chinese from any further incursion,” a brigadier said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
Chinese officials say that in opposing the road construction, Indian border guards obstructed “normal activities” on the Chinese side, and called on India to immediately withdraw.
What is the situation now?
Both India and China have rushed more troops to the border region, and media reports say the two sides are in an “eyeball to eyeball” stand-off. The Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui told Press Trust of India news agency on last Tuesday that India had to “unconditionally pull back troops” for peace to prevail. The statement is being seen as a diplomatic escalation by China.
China also retaliated by stopping 57 Indian pilgrims who were on their way to the Manas Sarovar Lake in Tibet via the Nathu La pass in Sikkim. The lake is a holy Hindu site and there is a formal agreement between the neighbours to allow devotees to visit.
Bhutan, meanwhile, has asked China to stop building the road, saying it is in violation of an agreement between the two countries.
Why there’s trouble on the India-China border
The 1962 war was sparked off near Ziminthang by disagreement over whether the boundary ran along the Thagla Ridge, as India claimed, or along the Hathungla ridgeline to its south, as China contended.
The 1986 Sumdorong Chu confrontation, which saw India moving tens of thousands of troops to the trouble spot, was over the tiny Thangdrong grazing ground near Tawang, with India claiming the watershed ran north of that meadow, and China claiming it was to the south.
These small disputes over the alignment of the LAC are sub-sets of a major overarching territorial dispute — in which China claims all of Arunachal Pradesh (Southern Tibet); and India claims the Aksai Chin plateau.
However, the ongoing standoff at THE tri-junction, at the southern tip of the Chumbi Valley, is over territory that both Beijing and New Delhi regard as strategically important.
What does India say?
Indian military experts say Sikkim is the only area through which India could make an offensive response to a Chinese incursion, and the only stretch of the Himalayan frontier where Indian troops have a terrain and tactical advantage.
They have higher ground, and the Chinese positions there are squeezed between India and Bhutan.
“The Chinese know this and so they are always trying to undo our advantage there,” retired Maj-Gen Gaganjit Singh, who commanded troops on the border, told the BBC.
Last week, the foreign ministry said that the construction “would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India”.
Indian Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also warned that the India of 2017 was not the India of 1962, and the country was well within its rights to defend its territorial integrity.
What does China say?
China has reiterated its sovereignty over the area, saying that the road is in its territory and accusing Indian troops of “trespassing”.
It said India would do well to remember its defeat in the 1962 war, warning Delhi that China was also more powerful than it was then.
On Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that the border in Sikkim had been settled in an 1890 agreement with the British, and that India’s violation of this was “very serious”.
Can India and China go to War?
The territorial and boundary dispute between India and China is a complex, historical, multi-layered wrangle across a sprawling 3,500 kilometre-long border. Yet, a relatively simple disagreement has brought patrols from both armies eyeball-to-eyeball on the Sikkim-Tibet border since June 16 and led to China blocking the travel of Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar through the Nathu La border pass.
The current face-off in Doklam plateau region is the longest impasse since 1962. Both the sides are refusing to budge from their position. With Indian Defense Minister saying that India of 2017 is different from 1962, and Chinese foreign experts saying that China will protect its so-called ‘sovereign territory’ at any cost even war; the question of an impending war is in the air.
Is China, the world’s bully?
China is a global superpower — an economic and political giant that is fast becoming the world’s most powerful nation. As of today, this country has the second-largest economy in the world, surpassing the EU. As such, it’s not surprising to know that many countries are starting to fear China.
Chinese government officials are well aware of the power and influence their country holds. They know that many nations are afraid of them. As a result, they have become abusive. China is using its resources, power, and influence to bully countries, organizations, and even individuals.
Over the preceding decade, India’s defensive posture has been greatly stiffened by raising two new divisions in the Northeast; an armoured brigade each for Ladakh and the Northeast; a mountain strike corps currently being raised and major improvements in India’s air defence and air strike capabilities.
Whereas once, China bullied India on the LAC and — as it is attempting in Doklam — built roads, tracks and bunkers as ‘facts on the ground’ to consolidate its position in any future negotiation; today the Indian Army is rightly willing to, and capable of, physically blocking such attempts.
The question then is: Does the army’s new assertiveness risk a patrol clash escalating into shooting and possibly skirmishes on a wider front?
There has been no shooting on the LAC since 1975, a peace bolstered by the successful ‘Peace and Tranquillity Agreement’ that New Delhi and Beijing signed in 1993.