A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College, and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters
To understand the problem between India and China one has to go back to history. During the days of the British Raj, a line of control was defined between India and Tibet which at that time was an independent state. On the eastern border, Sir Henry MacMohan, a British civil servant who was the chief negotiator at the 1913 Shimla conference between British India, China, and Tibet a border a line was drawn up called the MacMohan line. This became the de facto border between India and Tibet. The Indian government has long recognized this as a border between India and China though China does not recognize it as it considers it to be a vestige of British imperialism.
On the western border, the Ardagh–Johnson Line was proposed as a boundary between Kashmir and Tibet. This line abuts Chinese Turkestan and Tibet. It was formally proposed by Major General John Ardagh, chief of military intelligence in London, in 1897, as the border between India and Tibet. This line was based on the surveys conducted by William Johnson in 1865.
The British as the paramount power at that time were able to enforce their will on Tibet, which generally accepted the British interpretation. After 1947 the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had no vision of strategic domination and failed to set up any administration in the Aksai Chin area which was West of the Johnson line. He foolishly made a statement that 'not a blade of grass grows there.'
The Indian government failed to set up any administration in Aksai Chin with the result the Chinese occupied the entire area and also constructed a road from Tibet to Sinkiang. The road was discovered in 1955 but Jawaharlal Nehru did not announce it to the Indian people as he feared it will antagonize the Indian masses. He also failed to build up the military in the region thinking that his equation with the Chinese Prime Minister Chou -En-Lai would be enough.
In 1959 an Indian patrol of the Central Reserve Police Force was ambushed by the Chinese and 12 soldiers were killed. Nehru then came under intense pressure and he reluctantly ordered a few army units into Ladakh but at that time Aksai Chin had already been lost and 37,000 mi.² occupied by China, which had conquered Tibet in 1950 with the World sleeping.
As a reaction to Nehru's forward policy, China launched an attack against India in 1962. It was a one-sided war and the Indian Army heavily outnumbered and outgunned fought bravely yet they could not stop a Chinese advance. President Kennedy was seized of the problem and on a request from Nehru ordered a massive shipment of arms to India. His hands were tied as he was confronting the USSR in the famous 1962 missile crisis. China took advantage of the crisis and launched an attack against India on 20 October 1962.
On 21 November 1962, The Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire and retreated to their old positions. This was after it became apparent that the United States was going to enter in support of India in a big way.
Since that time the border in Ladakh is not defined and is referred to as the line of actual control. China does not recognize it as a formal border while India insists on the Johnson line as the border.
Much water has flown down since that time and the Indian military has been greatly strengthened. With the advent of Narendra Modi in 2014 as the prime minister of India, greater attention began to be given to the Indian border with China in Ladakh. The Indians began to lay down a network of roads for easy movement of troops and also positioned troops on the border that met the Chinese deployment.
Despite all this, the Indians and the Chinese had a border agreement and the patrolling by troops was done without arms. The border remained peaceful for 55 years and not a shot was fired.
Everything changed with the coronavirus and China felt itself in the dock for its handling of the virus. President Xi of China came under intense pressure in China from the communist party for his mishandling of relations with other countries and the isolation of China.
The Face Off
The supreme authority for all military actions in China is the Central Military Commission which is presided over by the President himself. As president, he was under intense pressure in China and he had to look for a way out to show to the domestic audience and the Communist party that he was a strong man. In all likelihood, he ordered the forward policy of the Chinese army to cross the LAC and occupy some Indian territory.
The intrusion into the Indian territory began sometime in April and was brought to the notice of the Chinese by the Indian government. Precious time was lost as the Indians approached the Russians to ask the Chinese to withdraw. The Russians assured the Indians that the Chinese will withdraw. This faith in Russia appears to be misplaced though Russia had been an ally of India for almost 50 years. In the new geopolitical scenario, Russia is closely allied with China against the United States.
The Chinese did not withdraw and on the contrary, claimed the Galwan area as part of China. Seeing the Chinese were not withdrawing the Indians brought in the Bofors field guns and the 155MM howitzers and positioned fighter aircraft at bases in Kashmir.
At the same time negotiations between the local army commanders and diplomatic front continued between India and China. Lieutenant-General Harinder Singh the Indian Corps Commander had a meeting with his Chinese counterpart to discuss the issue. It was finally decided that the Chinese army would revert to its old positions.
The Indians thought that China will honor the agreement reached but unknown to the Indians, the Central Military Commission had already decided to create a border incident and attract the attention of the people of China and the world away from the coronavirus imbroglio.
Narendra Modi can be faulted for thinking that China will honor the agreement. He has had nine meetings with President Xi and perhaps he was under the impression that the border will remain calm.
On the night of 15th June, an Indian force led by a Colonel of the Indian Army began a patrol to check whether the Chinese had gone back. The Chinese were waiting and attacked the Indian soldiers with iron rods and stones. The Galvan Valley is a narrow area with a river flowing on one side. In that area a bloody hand to hand fighting took place. The Chinese were thinking that the Indians will not follow up and check on their withdrawal as they still had the thinking that the Indian Army would not like to confront China as they had suffered a big defeat in 1962.
When the Chinese attacked the Indians, the Indian soldiers retaliated and a bloody battle commenced. It was hand-to-hand fighting and in the fight, 20 Indian soldiers were killed. The Chinese as per reports available lost 43 dead in this clash. They were airlifted by Chinese helicopters.
Observing that the incident was getting out of control, the Chinese government called for talks with India. The Chinese Vice Premier also met the Indian ambassador in Beijing. The offer of talks came from China and the local Indian commanders had a meeting with the Chinese and it was decided to disengage. The fact remains that the Chinese seriously miscalculated the response of the Indian Army on the border.
The hand-to-hand fighting and the casualties suffered by both the armies is a first after 55 years and that too when firearms were not used.
China is worried as to which way India will turn. India has a military cooperation agreement with the United States, Australia, and Japan and the Chinese are feeling ringed. The Chinese are also trying to corner India by egging Pakistan and Nepal to confront India.
Russia also is worried about the Indian participation in the American Indo Pacific configuration against China. India is the key to controlling Chinese power. The earlier days of Nehru and his successors when the Indians were not aggressive against China are a thing of the past. There is a tremendous feeling in India to confront China and not give any Indian territory beyond the LAC. The Indian home minister Amit Shah in a statement in Parliament a few days back has already said that India wants to get back Aksai Chin and if required we will give our life for it. This statement is a little fanciful as this can happen only in a full-scale war with China which India and China do not want.
In the meantime, both the armies have built up their strength in Ladakh. The recent clash however is a lesson to China that they will not be able to have their way against India. Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia are standing on the side of India as it is the only power that can oppose China. The other peripheral nations are being browbeaten by the Chinese and even the United States is not that active in defense of these countries.
The Chinese have however achieved one objective. In Asia, the attention from their role as the perpetrator of the coronavirus has been replaced with a border clash with India. The matter is certainly not settled and there is a propensity for further clashes as after this bloody nose the Chinese Army would be looking for a way to salvage its reputation.
I would like to add here that after the bloody nose in Ladakh GEN JHAO ZONGQI, the PLA's Western theatre commander has been sacked by Chinese President Xi Jinping. That's proof enough that the dragon got a messy face in the clash.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 22, 2020:
I would like to add here that after the bloody nose in Ladakh GEN JHAO ZONGQI, the PLA's Western theatre commander has been sacked by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 17, 2020:
Thanks, Pamela, the Chinese have suffered more than 50 casualties. Further clash cannot be ruled out.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 17, 2020:
I heard that 20 Indian soldiers were killed by China on the border but I didn't know any of the facts. Your article explains the historical facts very well, MG. I hope there is no more killings of Indian soldiers.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 17, 2020:
Thank you Flourish
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 17, 2020:
I didn’t know there was a nasty ongoing border dispute between the two countries. Our news is all about the quick info bites, the breaking news, and unless there was a big issue there we wouldn’t be exposed much to this type of information. Thanks for sharing it.
MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 16, 2020:
Ken, I have mentioned the killing of 20 Indian soldiers
Ken Burgess from Florida on June 16, 2020:
You are going to have to update this one:
Chinese killed twenty Indian soldiers... so far... on the 16th