India and China: The ice cracks

Indian soldiers walk at the foothills of a mountain range near Leh, the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh, on June 25, 2020. - Indian fighter jets roared over a flashpoint Himalayan region on June 24 as part of a show of strength following what military sources say has been a Chinese takeover of contested territory. Chinese forces have held onto a chunk of land covering several square kilometres (miles) at the mouth of the Galwan valley following a deadly brawl there on June 15, the Indian military sources told AFP. (Photo by Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP)

Last month, on June 17, Indian and Chinese soldiers came to blows at Galwan Valley in the Union Territory of Ladakh. Twenty Indian soldiers including a senior officer were killed in the clash. Since then, while soldiers on both sides have been holding talks, the Indian and Chinese armies have been stationing a lot of troops on either side of the border.

India and China share a 3440 kilometre long border, and it is not a clear line that separates the two nations. At several places, the exact location of the border line is something the two countries disagree on. From time to time, Indian and Chinese border guards have got onto fights, but it never led to anything serious, until now.

The problem started in May, when Chinese soldiers put up tents, dug trenches (pits) and brought in heavy machinery – in effect taking over the land – in areas that India had always regarded as its territory. This led to the June 17 clash. Since then, the Indian Army has moved many soldiers closer to the Chinese border, and China has done the same.

Caught between the two armies are the local people of Galwan Valley who are unable to graze their sheep and cattle in the valley’s pastures. Given Ladakh’s brief warm season, this loss of grazing time is hurting them quite a bit. As a security measure telephone lines have also been cut in the border area, and locals are having to trek several kilomeres away to make a phone call. Like the rest of India, they too eagerly wait for the Chinese and Indian governments to settle the issue without more fights breaking out.

To sort matters out, Indian and Chinese generals have held talks but nothing much has come of this. There have been reports this week of Chinese troops retreating (moving back), but it is not clear if both armies will stand back completely.