FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

India and China Tussle on the Roof of the World

The snowbound winter is a deep freeze. The wind is icy. All work stops, including the fighting. Everything is compressed into the thawed late spring, summer and early autumn … including the fighting. It is here that the Indian and Chinese armies face each other over a historically uncertain border. The troops are fractious.

Such is the situation on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, which itself is high enough to be known as the roof of the world. The confrontation between the world’s two most populous nations, both nuclear-armed, reached a crisis point recently. Relations plumbed a nadir when during a heated meeting of officers to resolve immediate issues a hand-to-hand fight broke out resulting in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers. The Chinese have yet to announce the figures for their losses.

In this surprising encounter the weapons of choice appear to have been nail-studded clubs now displayed on Indian news sites. Why the officers were not carrying firearms goes back to previous attempts to resolve disputes along this 2500 mile long colonial-era border.

Known originally as the McMahon Line and agreed upon by British India, China and Tibet, a line of demarcation was drawn up and accepted by the three parties. Implicit in the agreement incidentally was Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. So it was that the Chinese had written backing for their claim when they annexed Tibet in 1951, putting it under direct control.

After numerous border incidents in the next four decades, Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao decided to accept the de facto border giving up some territory on the western half in exchange for peace. Signed September 7, 1993, and called the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, it was a bold political step for the prime minister as India had not been able to get over its humiliating defeat by the Chinese in the month long war of October 20 – November 21, 1962.

The 1993 agreement was followed by others to buttress the original treaty. In 1996, the two countries drew up further clauses aimed to prevent actual hostilities. Article VI Section 1 bans the use of firearms against one another. It also bars explosives within two kilometers of the Line of Actual Control on both sides. While the soldiers have arms at their border posts, the long standing practise has been for them to be unarmed during any fact-to-face meetings. Hence the brawl that degenerated into medieval combat leading to the deaths of the aforementioned 20 Indian soldiers and so far an unnamed number of Chinese.

To reinforce the previous agreements, the two countries signed another in 2005 expressing their continued willingness to abide by the 1993 and 1996 treaties. But now Narendra Modi has come into office. His muscular stance on the border has been of concern to the Chinese. If India has been building new roads and bridges to facilitate troop movement, the Chinese have moved a substantial force, advertising in their media its prowess and that of special armoured vehicles designed for use on the high Tibetan plateau.

Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar have discussed the situation via telephone to lower temperatures and adhere to the signed agreements. And military representatives have taken over the task of disengagement. It looks like India’s new road (completed last year) from the Ladakh capital, Leh, all the way to the Karakoram pass has become a fait accompli.

There it stands. Neither side really wants war for rational economic reasons but then it seems neither side is truly happy with the current peace. It was to prevent an accidental flareup that the 1996 agreement restricting the use of firearms and explosives was signed. Rationality would predict it will hold although danger always lies in the accidental and the irrational … just like the brawl.

More articles by:

Arshad M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally for the print and often for online media outlets.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
August 13, 2020
David Correia, Justin Bendell, and Ernesto Longa
Nine Mile Ride: Why Police Reform Always Results in More Police Violence, Not Less
Vijay Prashad
Why a Growing Force in Brazil Is Charging That President Jair Bolsonaro Has Committed Crimes Against Humanity
Brett Wilkins
Teaching Torture: The Death and Legacy of Dan Mitrione
Joseph Scalia III
Yellowstone Imperiled by Compromise
Binoy Kampmark
Don’t Stigmatise the Nuke! Opponents of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty
Margot Rathke
The Stimulus Deal Should Include Free College
CounterPunch News Service
Critic of Wildlife Department Removed Day Before Scheduled Meetings on Revisions to Wolf-killing Protocols
Thomas Knapp
America Doesn’t Have Real Presidential Debates, But It Should
George Ochenski
Time to Face – and Plan for – Our Very Different Future
Ted Rall
Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick is … ZZZZZ
Purusottam Thakur
‘If We Don’t Work, Who’ll Produce the Harvest?’
Robert Dreyfuss
October Surprise: Will War with Iran Be Trump’s Election Eve Shocker?
Gary Leupp
The RCP, Fascism, and Chairman Bob’s Endorsement of Biden for President
James Haught
The Pandemic Disproves God
Robert Koehler
Election Theft and the Reluctant Democracy
August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail