Himalayan bridge project sparks new tensions between China, India
Tensions between India and China are mounting again in the Himalayan region of Ladakh over a new Chinese-built bridge on the shores of Lake Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh. Analysts say there is a possibility of continuing skirmishes between the two nuclear states.
Open source intelligence analyst Damien Symon, with the @detresfa_ Twitter account, recently shared satellite images of the area that showed a bridge-like structure connecting the two shores of Pangong Tso Lake.
Head of the Peace and Conflict Research Department at the Swedish University of Uppsala, Professor Ashok Swain, told VOA it was a clear sign that China has no intention of pulling out parts of India which it took control in 2020.
Swain points out that India lacks the military strength to push China to agree to de-escalation. He says Chinese President Xi Jingping is gaining the upper hand in escalating border conflict, while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political calculation forces him to downplay Chinese aggression, and in this context, disengagement is best. that India can hope to achieve.
This standoff in the frigid Himalayan region also comes amid claims that Beijing is building settlements on the Indian side. India slammed China for building a bridge in eastern Ladakh, which India’s Foreign Ministry, or MEA, claimed was being erected in territories “which are illegally occupied for about 60 years by the Chinese “.
While confirming the development, Arindam Bagchi, an official spokesperson for MEA said, “The administration is closely monitoring allegations that China is building a bridge over Lake Pangong. The land on which this bridge is built has been illegally occupied. by China for nearly 60 years. “
Reacting strongly to India’s claim, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing, “I would like to point out that China’s infrastructure building on its territory is entirely under its sovereignty and aims to safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and security, as well as peace and stability on the Sino-Indian border. ”
Conflict that has been brewing for a long time
The fundamental reason for the tension between the two countries, according to the principal researcher and co-director of China, East Asia at the Stimson Center, Yun Sun, is the dispute over the territory and the two want to advance their positions and strengthen their claims. Sun told VOA that the Chinese can also bring their own complaints about India’s accumulations in the disputed region. The result is a classic infrastructure race, akin to an arms race.
Experts say the purpose of this new bridge is to ensure faster military action if needed by reducing the distance to the other side by about 125 kilometers. Earlier in 2020, China suffered a setback when the Indian military took control of the Kailash mountain range on the southern shore of Pangong Tso Lake.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, told VOA that the new transportation infrastructure for Chinese troops is important because it strengthens China’s position along the border. in the event of a new confrontation with India.
“Since the border is not clearly defined and is contested in different places, any new act, even if it is seen in isolation as perfectly harmless, can be seen by the other party as a problem, even a provocation. With Indo-Chinese relations still strained even nearly two years after the Ladakh crisis, it won’t take much to provoke another crisis.
“That is why dialogue will be essential, and in particular from military to military, to anticipate the possibility of a new crisis,” Kugelman added.
Pravin Sawhney, a former Indian army officer and author of numerous books, told VOA that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is in the process of establishing permanent habitat, training stations and an operational base at the borders. of Ladakh. “Right now about 75% of the lake is owned by China and, according to the intention behind the new Chinese bridge, appears to be taking control of the entire lake,” says Sawhney.
Another reason for the renewed tension between India and China is the new maps drawn by India, where Ladakh is presented as Union territory and certain parts claimed by China are presented as zones. Indian. “It didn’t go well with China,” Sawhney said.
Moreover, analysts say that a gray area operation like this by the Chinese side could hit a threshold at any time and be a prelude to war in the near future. According to Sawhney’s assessment, the PLA will be ready for conflict by 2023, and then going to war will only be a matter of time. “PLA does everything as part of a gray area operation,” Sawhney said. “War between India and China cannot be ruled out.”
tense dead end
Aparna Pande, researcher and director of the Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, stressed that there will always be tensions along a border between two countries. armed with nuclear weapons that have more than 200,000 soldiers face to face. She says there is a possibility of continuing skirmishes but not necessarily war.
Pande told VOA that the more aggressive China is on the border and in the South Asia and Indian Ocean region, the more India will retreat and align itself closer to the United States and its allies. . The less aggressive China, the more India will pursue a policy of hedging and balancing.
Contrary to what Pande thinks, Craig Singleton, an associate researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies – a non-partisan research group focused on foreign policy and national security issues – told VOA that China’s leadership is clearly bewildered. by deepening New Delhi’s ties with Washington, not forgetting Tokyo and Canberra.
By maintaining an active presence on the Indian border and seeking to influence New Delhi, China could try to force the Indian leadership to make political concessions.
Singleton believes that China is trying to exert influence over India by denying its territorial integrity without engaging in blind expansionism. What remains unclear, however, is how far Beijing is willing to go to upset New Delhi as its leaders face serious domestic economic problems and find themselves increasingly isolated on the world stage.
The move came at a time when the residents of Chushul are already deeply concerned. These new developments add further to their concerns. Last October, military discussions at the commander level came to a halt when the Indian military declared that the Chinese side had not accepted its “positive proposals” after the 13th session.
India and China have agreed to resume the 14th round of military talks scheduled for Jan. 12. Over 50,000 troops are currently guarding the sensitive LAC region on both sides.