India – China border dispute: Three years after Galwan clash– Explained, pointwise

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Three years after the infamous Galwan clash, the India-China border dispute still remains a significant geopolitical issue. The deadly encounter in the Galwan Valley marked a turning point in Sino-Indian relations, leading to heightened tensions and military buildup along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). While some progress has been made through rounds of diplomatic and military talks, many friction points persist. This ongoing dispute continues to strain the bilateral ties, making its resolution critical for regional peace and stability.  

About the Galwan Clash

The Galwan Valley clash, occurring on the night of June 14-15, 2020, marked a pivotal moment in India-China relations. For the first time in 45 years, soldiers from the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army engaged in a fatal altercation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), resulting in significant casualties on both sides. The conflict, sparked by China’s attempts to alter the LAC status quo, ignited deep tensions and mutual distrust.  

Three years later, despite diplomatic, political, and military discussions, these issues remain unresolved. Both nations continue to enhance their military presence and infrastructure along the LAC, amidst fluctuating perspectives on the situation’s gravity. The disengagement in key areas remains incomplete, and India insists on returning to the April 2020 status quo. This complex dispute requires continual vigilance, ideally leading to a peaceful, mutually beneficial resolution. 

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What is the status of the present conflict between India and China?

Ongoing standoff and military preparedness: The conflict between India and China following the Galwan Valley clash in 2020 remains unresolved, with both sides maintaining a significant military presence along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India has significantly enhanced its military infrastructure, surveillance capabilities, and combat readiness, closing the “infrastructure differential” with China.  

Diplomatic and military talks: 18 rounds of high-level military talks have been conducted so far, focusing on disengagement and restoring peace along the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Some success has been achieved, with disengagement in several areas following extensive diplomatic and military discussions.  

Media row: The ongoing dispute between India and China concerning journalists, tensions have escalated as China has reportedly ordered the last Indian journalist remaining in the country to leave. The representative from the Press Trust of India (PTI) has been instructed to leave China, effectively erasing any Indian media presence from the country.  

Difference of opinion in LAC: There is a significant difference in how the two sides perceive and project the situation at the LAC. While China portrays the situation as gradually shifting to a normalized management phase, India views the border situation as “very fragile” and “quite dangerous.” Furthermore, India demands the restoration of the status quo of April 2020 at Ladakh, which China has consistently refused.  

Future relations: India maintains that the normalization of bilateral ties with China is contingent upon peace in the border areas. China, on the other hand, seeks to put the border issue aside to focus on building a broader relationship. This fundamental disagreement continues to hamper the resolution of the conflict.  

Must read: Disengagement agreement at Pangong Tso Lake – Explained

What is the status of boundary talks between India and China?

India – China border dispute
Source: Deccan Herald

High-level military talks: These talks aim to encourage disengagement in the friction points and to restore peace along the LAC. Though some progress has been made through these discussions, a mutually acceptable solution to all the remaining points of contention is yet to be agreed upon.  

Achievements of the talks: As a result of the ongoing diplomatic, political, and military conversations, troops have successfully disengaged from multiple areas including Galwan Valley, the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, and the Gogra Post-Hot Springs area. This indicates that despite the friction, both sides are willing to engage in dialogue to resolve conflicts.  

Key issues remain unresolved: China has been resistant to discussing the strategic Depsang Plains and Demchok areas, stating that these are “legacy issues” that predate the April 2020 clashes and hence do not come under the purview of the current talks. This resistance has created a deadlock in the negotiations, further complicating the already strained relationship between the two nations.  

Diverging perspectives and expectations: There is a clear divergence in how both countries view the progress and the outcome of these talks. China seeks to normalize the situation, urging India to separate the border issue from the broader bilateral relationship. India, on the other hand, insists that peace and tranquillity in the border regions are a prerequisite for any normalization of bilateral relations. This fundamental difference in perspective continues to pose challenges to the success of the talks. 

Read more: India China rebooting ties Post – Doklam

What are the challenges in resolving the India – China border dispute?

India – China border dispute
Source: Tribune

Historical Disagreements and ‘Legacy Issues’: The India-China border dispute has a long and complex history that dates back to the 1962 border war. The presence of ‘legacy issues’, such as the disputes over Depsang Plains and Demchok, which China refuses to discuss under current talks, adds an additional layer of complexity.  

Unilateral actions: China’s attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo along the LAC, including military incursions into Indian territory, have significantly escalated tensions and complicated resolution efforts.  

Strategic concerns and nationalistic sentiments: The strategic importance of the disputed territory, coupled with nationalistic sentiments on both sides, makes it more difficult for either government to compromise or concede territory.  

Military build-up and infrastructure development: Both sides have been strengthening their military presence and infrastructure along the LAC, signalling preparedness for potential conflict and reducing the space for a peaceful resolution.  

Lack of trust and mutual suspicion: The deadly clashes of 2020 have deeply impacted the level of trust between the two nations, leading to heightened suspicion and uncertainty. This lack of trust creates a volatile environment that is not conducive to long-term conflict resolution.  

Imbalance in buffer zones: The establishment of buffer zones during the disengagement process has resulted in India losing more territory than China. This imbalance creates further tension and makes conflict resolution more difficult.  

Media and diplomatic relations: Relations outside the border conflict, like the tit-for-tat war over journalists, further strain the relationship between the two nations, making it harder to find common ground and cooperate in resolving the border dispute.  

Read more: Lessons and Challenges for India after a Year of Galwan Clash

What should be done?

Continued dialogue and negotiations: Both nations must continue high-level talks, keeping dialogue channels open to facilitate negotiation and mutual understanding. Military, political, and diplomatic conversations should be maintained to reduce tension along the LAC.  

Establish trust: Building trust is crucial in resolving any conflict. To this end, both countries should actively avoid actions that could exacerbate the situation, such as unilateral attempts to alter the status quo, and work towards fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding.  

Resolve legacy issues: The legacy issues, including unresolved border claims, should be addressed in the negotiations, without discarding them as matters predating the current conflict. This would ensure a comprehensive solution to the border dispute.  

Balanced disengagement: Future disengagements should aim for a balance, ensuring neither side disproportionately loses territory in the creation of buffer zones. This will help to maintain the equilibrium and contribute to a long-term peaceful resolution.  

Improvement of broader relations: While addressing the border dispute is essential, it would be beneficial to also focus on improving the broader bilateral relations. For instance, both countries could work towards resolving issues such as the ongoing media dispute.  

Third-party mediation: If bilateral talks do not result in a breakthrough, considering a neutral third-party mediator could be an option. However, both countries must agree to this, and it should not be perceived as an infringement on their sovereignty. 

Sources: Indian Express (Article 1 and Article 2), Swarajyamag, Financial Express, Economic Times (Article 1, Article 2 and Article 3), Tribune, Live Mint, WION and The Diplomat

Syllabus: GS 2: International Relations: India and its neighbourhood- relations.

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