India-China border skirmishes concerning

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has described the face-off between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh on Dec 9 as a minor incident in which a few Indian soldiers received minor injuries. He also said the Chinese army had gone back to its position after local commanders took de-escalation measures as stipulated in the rule book. In other words, there is nothing to worry. Nonetheless, it does not inspire confidence that skirmishes of the kind the minister described happen on the border from time to time. Far more serious was the clash that happened in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in August 2020. It was the first time in several decades that combat occurred. One hoped the two sides had learnt their lessons.

The latest incident suggests a lot needs to be done to forestall face-offs. India and China are not just two neighbours. Both have armies that are among the world’s largest. They also have all kinds of nuclear weapons and the capability to deploy them. In other words, no Chinese or Indian territory is beyond reach for either side. Those who know the history of wars know only too well that they are always provoked by small incidents which escalate. Between them, India and China have a third of the world’s population. If anything, this shows how dangerous it is to allow any standoff to occur on the border that stretches nearly 3,500km.

There can be no denying that a border dispute exists between the countries which led to a war in 1962. Over the past 60 years, they have also established institutional mechanisms to discuss and settle part by part the border which was just a line drawn by a British cartographer. That they have made considerable headway in this regard is borne out by the peaceful state of the border since the short war. Rightly or wrongly, India thought safety lay in keeping the border areas undeveloped, but that did not prevent China from building roads and other infrastructure right up to the border. When India started matching development for development, it antagonised China. What happened in the Galwan Valley earlier and now in the Yangtse area can be explained in this manner, though this does not minimise the people’s concern.

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