The root cause is an undefined 3,440km (2,100-mile) border dispute. Because of rivers, lakes, and snow-caps along the border, the line can shift, bringing soldiers to face to face at many points and stirring up a scuffle.
The two countries are also competing to build infrastructure along the border, known as the Line of Actual Control. The construction of a new road to a high-altitude airbase in India is said to be one of the primary causes of a clash with Chinese troops.
Despite several high-level meetings and bi-lateral and military-level talks, the tensions across the border remain high.
Last year, on 20th January the skirmish that took place in the state of Sikkim left the troops on both sides injured. The year 2020 was especially violent. The June clash in the Galwan Valley, which was fought with sticks and clubs rather than guns, was the first fatal crash between the two sides since 1975. The Galwan episode led to a rapid build-up of forces on both sides of the Line of Actual Control, both sides moved in tanks, missiles, and other heavy weaponry closer to the LAC, leading to a very tense situation at the border. Following multiple rounds of talks both at the military and diplomatic levels, an agreement was made on de-escalation and disengagement from all friction points in Ladakh. But months after the process began, the disengagement is not complete. And hence, the stalemate at the border still continues to exist.
Unfortunately, the New Year does not bring new hopes for the two countries, as their bilateral ties do not appear to be improving. The latest round of talks between India and China follows a string of incidents that have strained the already strained relationship between the two countries. China has announced its own names for more than 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh; the Chinese embassy has sent stern letters to Indian parliamentarians for attending a reception hosted by the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile last month, and China has built a bridge on Pangong Tso in an area that India claims is illegally occupied.
Apart from this the new land border law which came into effect in China on January 1, 2022, supports the construction of Xiaokang border villages by China along its disputed border with India. As per satellite images, at least two of these villages have been constructed on the Indian side of the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. These villages will come in handy for Beijing when the principle of ‘settled areas’ is invoked to resolve the border dispute in the future.
India had expected China to agree to disengage from Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in Hot Springs at the previous round of talks, which took place on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border personnel meeting point, on October 10. However, there was no major advancement, and the countries issued statements blaming each other post-meeting. India stringently remarked that the Chinese side was uncooperative and could not make any forward-looking proposals.
However, like India and China gear up for yet another round of Corps Commander talks to resolve a 20-month standoff in eastern Ladakh, the situation on the ground is uncertain, and the diplomats suggest that “anything can happen”.
What lies Ahead
The Quad has always been a non-military grouping. Furthermore, the signing of the AUKUS and the humiliating American exit from Afghanistan demonstrate that India will have to deal with the dragon’s threat on its own at the border.
As China and India continue with infrastructure development at the Line of Actual Control at breakneck speed, considering the status quo, the chances of a third mediation appear very bleak.
Although External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted in February 2021, that he had spoken with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the “implementation of our Moscow Agreement.” It was the first public acknowledgment of Russia’s role in defusing tensions between India and China. Indeed, Russia has friendly relations with both countries but its role as a mediator to resolve the formidable deadlock between the two countries is still subject to debate, for India has already ruled out this possibility.