By Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 19 June 2020) – Violent face-off broke out between India and China along the Actual Line of Control (LAC) at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on 15 June with loss of life ”on both sides”. India confirmed the death of 20 soldiers while China has not specified any number of Chinese casualties. Whatever happened in eastern Ladakh was unfortunate. It violated the understanding of 6 June, in which, both sides had decided to de-escalate the tension. Both had started the ‘de-escalation’ process after a month long stand-off at several points of shared 3,400 kilometres long border.
This is the first such violent escalation along the LAC in 45 years. The main cause of the 1962 war was a dispute over the sovereignty of the widely separated Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. India claims that Aksai Chin belongs to Kashmir while China claims it being a part of Xinjiang.
India and China, militarily and diplomatically, tried to clarify their standpoint blaming each other for escalating violence. India blamed China for violating the agreement whereas China accused India of carrying out illegal activities and launching provocative works crossing the LAC.
On 16 June, foreign and military officials of both the countries interpreted the incident. Indian foreign officials blamed China saying the casualties ”could have been avoided” had the agreement made military commanders over the past week been followed by the Chinese side. “We remain firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas and the resolution of differences through dialogue” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
China denied India’s statement. Zhang Shuili, PLA spokesperson for the Western Theatre Command, held responsible the Indian troops for violence. The fierce fight broke out after Indian troops crossed the LAC for illegal activities, he claimed. ”The Indian side should immediately stop all infringement and provocative actions, and work together with China to return to the dialogue and negotiations to resolve the differences”, he said.
India and China have reiterated dialogue to resolve the border issues. They have commonly said that both sides should return to the dialogue and negotiations to resolve the differences. This is a helpful gesture. This can be possible if both the sides realise that they have been deploying wrong policy.
The nuclear neighbours — India and China– are rising economies of the world. The clash between the two armies will not only worsen the situation of the two countries but affects the whole region. Peace and stability along the LAC is essential for the stability in the region. Therefore, there is the need of a high-level political engagement between the two nations to establish peace and tranquility along the border. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping should intervene and ask their respective armies to immediately retreat the areas so that the further flare-up can be prevented. Both the governments must understand that this is not the situation of 1962.
In 2017 when the armies of the two nations encountered in Doklam, both had agreed to maintain peace along the border after some skirmishes. President Xi and Prime Minister Modi started historic informal summit. They held two summits, first in Wuhan of mid China and second in Chennai of South India. They had an understanding to maintain calm and peace in border and establish strategic partnership.
Let’s bring Nepal into discourse. Nepal always wants peace and harmony in its neighbourhood. The country has meritoriously employed balance foreign policy with both neighbours. The country thinks it has more opportunities than challenges being a sandwiched between the two giants. And Nepal has also border problem with India. Like India doesn’t see the alternative to dialogue to resolve the border problem with China, Nepal also does not see any alternative to dialogue to sort out the border dispute with India. Nepal-India border has always remained calm and peaceful unlike India-China. People across the border have been living in harmony exchanging goodwill. Nepal has claimed its territories, which were encroached and controlled by India since early 1960s. India has also claimed the same territories.
Time for negotiation
On 13 June, India again said the territories to the east of Limpiyadhura belong to her while taking ‘note’ of the amendment of Nepal’s constitution with national consensus. It has been saying Nepal’s new map is an artificial enlargement of territory, not based on historical facts or evidences and is not tenable. It has also said it is violation of our understanding to hold on outstanding boundary issues. This is not the time of exchanging rhetoric but this is the time for pushing meaningful negotiations. Nepal has said it has historical evidences to prove that Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhuara have been its integral part since the 1816 Sugauli Treaty.
At least, India has ‘noted’ Nepal’s national consensus to endorse the updated map. India should not repeat the past mistakes but must learn from them. India couldn’t avoid talks with Nepal since the latter wants friendship with the former.