The new year began with yet another dispute along the Sino-Indian border. This happened just a few months after Beijing and New Delhi had resolved a previous situation which had escalated into a 73-day long standoff in the Doklam region.
In the wake of the most recent event, Tibetan Prime-Minister-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, came forward with a warning for New Delhi, The Tribune reports.
According to Minister Sangay, the violations of the Indian border by Chinese troops are “a sign of China’s expansionist mindset.”
New Delhi should, thus, be wary of Beijing’s intentions. Minister Sangay further adds that China is using a five-finger strategy to encroach on India, with the regions of Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh the aforementioned fingers. He goes on to declare that what happened to Tibet could happen to India.
The Central Tibetan Administration, also known as the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, was created in 1959, after a failed attempt to bring down the Chinese rule of the country. The organization is headquartered in Dharamshala, in India, but it is not recognized as a governing body by any country.
The topic that sparked these statements during an interview to the Indo-Asian News Service was the construction of a road in Arunachal Pradesh, in the easternmost border between India and China. This raised concerns that it could spark a standoff similar to the incident in Doklam.
According to the Hindu, Chinese civilians were found doing construction work on the Indian side of the border in Tuting, one kilometer away from the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Troops from the Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police moved in on December 28 and sent the workers back to the Chinese side of the border. The construction equipment was seized, but apparently, there was no standoff.
Chinese officials declared last Wednesday that they were not even aware of the matter, CNBC reports. It should be noted that the territory is considered as part of Tibet by China.
This raises another issue, which is the fact that there is no real consent between Beijing and New Delhi about the LAC, as the Indian Express clarifies.
The truth of the matter is that both countries are ascending powers. India is certainly a regional power, with a large population, significant industrial output, and important armed forces. Strategically, the main goal for New Delhi is to control its current borders and the Indian Ocean.
On the other hand, China is an ascending global superpower. Beijing aims to not only control its borders but also to meaningfully expand its influence across the world. The Indian Ocean becomes a point of contention between the two nations, with the Chinese-Pakistan alliance serving as a counter to India. It also allows Beijing access to ports in the Indian Ocean, circumventing New Delhi.
Moreover, the land border brings other concerns to the table.
The Sino-Indian War of 1962 was a humiliating ordeal for New Delhi and certainly influences the strategic thinking of both nations’ military commanders. It also established the uneasy relationship that both nations have along the Himalayan region.
The LAC was recognized in 1993, in order to avoid new confrontations. However, its exact configuration is not totally agreed upon by the two nations. New Delhi declares it to be 3,400 kilometers long, but Beijing believes it to be significantly smaller.
Standoffs because of these border disagreements have happened several times, with the Doklam debacle being the most concerning in recent memory.
Such intrusions seem to be part of a wider Chinese strategy across Asia. The idea is for Beijing to impose its presence, using its neighbors’ unwillingness to react violently, or at all.
In order to do this, China has been gambling on the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea and the roads in the Himalayas. As the range of Beijing’s influence increases, its presence would become common and eventually unquestioned.
As the Atlantic reported, this method would restrict China’s neighbors, while Beijing would have free reign on the important trade routes and resources.
While nations like the Philippines would have little way to react on their own, India is another ball game altogether.
According to the Hindustan Times, New Delhi has been investing in their own border roads to improve its defenses. The Indian Minister of Transports, Nitin Gadkari, has described the ongoing programs to expand the roads in the northern regions of the country while also introducing seaplanes and hovercraft. This program is mostly a civilian transportation project but can have important military uses.
Thus, both nations are currently engaged in a struggle for regional dominance while trying to avoid serious escalations. China has reportedly cut down the number of troops in Doklam, but tensions remain all across the border.
The warning of Minister Sangay becomes especially ominous within this context.