India’s firing a shot first threatens to break 45 years of border
Calm along the China-India border has been disrupted by the Indian gunfire shot, the first in 45 years. Zhang Shuili, spokesman for the PLA’s Western Theatre Command, said in a statement on the morning of September 8 that it was a “serious military provocation of a very vile nature”. “India has been the first to break the rules,” Lin Minwang, deputy director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at Fudan University, told the Huan Qiu Shi Bao on Tuesday. “We will follow through.” As for India’s intentions, international media analysts say that perhaps New Delhi believes that angry public opinion at home, battered by the epidemic and the dire economic situation, needs an outlet. Perhaps it is the deterioration of relations between China and the United States that has led to India’s geopolitical miscalculation. “This is a very dangerous miscalculation and attempt”. A New Delhi-based analyst told the Huan Qiu Shi Bao on Tuesday that the move will not help ease the current standoff, but will also cause irreparable damage to bilateral relations. Today and tomorrow, the SCO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be held in Moscow, with the participation of Foreign Ministers of China and India. According to Russian media, Moscow hopes to provide a platform for India-China dialogue.
The Indian army tries to deny
Zhang Shuili said in a statement on September 8 that on September 7, Indian troops illegally entered the Shenpao Mountain area on the south bank of Pangong Lake in the western section of the China-India border. During the operation, the Indian army blatantly threatened the patrolling members of the Chinese border troops who had gone there to negotiate. The Chinese border troops were forced to take countermeasures to stabilize the situation on the ground. The move by the Indian side seriously violates relevant agreements between China and India, stirs up tensions in the area and enhances the chances of misunderstanding and miscalculation. We demand that the Indian side immediately stop its dangerous actions, immediately withdraw its personnel who have crossed the border, strictly restrain its front-line troops, seriously investigate and punish those who fired the provocatory shots, and ensure that similar incidents do not happen again. The troops in the theatre will resolutely perform their duties and missions safeguarding China’s territorial sovereignty.
The Indian Army denied the allegations in a statement on Monday, accusing Chinese troops of firing into the air during the border standoff. It said India had “never crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or taken any offensive measures, including firing” during the previous stand-off, while Chinese troops “tried to approach positions on the Indian side of the LAC” and, after being dissuaded by Indian troops, “fired into the air to intimidate” them. The Indian side chose “restraint” in response to “such a serious provocation” and has always acted “in a mature and responsible manner”. The Indian military also called the statement of the Chinese Western Theatre “an attempt to mislead the Chinese domestic and international public.”
However, India Today quoted an Indian military source as saying that the Indian army did “fire warning shots”, but “only after the Chinese soldiers approached the Indian position”. In a departure from the Indian military’s statement, the source said that when the Chinese troops approached them, the Indian army took a “pre-emptive offensive stance” “because the Chinese army tried to take control of the area and drive away the Indian garrison from the high ground”.
China has lodged solemn representations with India through diplomatic and military channels, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press conference on Tuesday. He also stressed that “during this incident, the Indian side was the one to open fire threatening shots at Chinese border patrol personnel, and the calm on the border between the two countries has been disrupted for the first time by gunfire since 1975”.
“Since the Indian side fired the gun, we must of course defend ourselves without hesitation,” Lin told the Huan Qiu Shi Bao on Tuesday. “We must send a clear signal to India that if India does decide to abandon the rules, we can fully bear the cost of the rules being broken and will definitely carry that through to the end.”
Why is New Delhi provoking China
NDTV quoted sources as saying that the Indian Army is still in the south bank of Pangong Lake deploying troops and equipment. China and India have been beefing up their forces and equipment after several days of brigade level talks aimed at easing tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Times of India said military-to-military exchanges were continuing “as usual”. The Army Chief of Staff, General Naravane, briefed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh after assessing the latest situation in the “Ladakh region”, said Government sources. The Cabinet Security Committee plans to convene a high-level security meeting with Singh, Chief of Defence Staff General Rawat and commanders of the Army, Navy and Air force on Tuesday. “China-India military confrontation” can be expected to be the important topic on their agenda.
The Hindustan Times published an article full of prejudice and paranoid schizophrenic mentality on September 8, saying that “the actions of The Chinese army in Ladakh region are part of China’s plan to destabilize India”, aiming to “strike a blow at the Indian Government and the image of Prime Minister Modi”. The article stressed that India is facing epidemic and economic challenges, and also needs to step up arms procurement and war preparation to deal with China’s “military threat” and Pakistan’s “terrorism threat”. If India “makes it through this round”, it will be “in a strong position” to face China in the future.
However, international media have pointed out that an important reason for India to stir up border disputes with China is to try to divert domestic conflicts. According to Malaysia’s Nanyang Siang Pau Daily, the economic blockade caused by the epidemic has put India’s economy into a period of negative growth since April this year, with severe inflation, supply chain disruption in the manufacturing sector, and a sharp decline in corporate performance. In April, and newly added numbers, the unemployment figure reached 120 million. Even before the first border clash this year, in May, India’s unemployment rate was 23 per cent. In August, the second time India provoked a border dispute, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India began to rise to more than 50,000 per day. Given India’s fragile economy and the large number of infected people that cannot be reversed in a short time, defusing popular anger and shifting the focus through the border dispute could buy the Indian government a brief period of comfort during which it won’t be held accountable by its people.
According to Nanyang Siang Pau, another reason for the conflict is India’s strategic game. India has long had unrealistic demands and conditions on territorial disputes along its border with China, and the rise of China over the past few decades has caused great anxiety in India. With relations between China and the United States in a deadlock and tensions rising across the Taiwan Strait, it may be true that India is thinking of pressurizing China for gaining greater geopolitical interests, seizing the opportunity of continued deterioration of Sino-American relations.
Foreign Ministers of China and India to meet in Moscow today
International public opinion is highly concerned about the escalation of tensions along the China-India border. “This is the first time in decades that a shooting has occurred on the border between the two countries, which have long adhered to an agreement banning the use of fire arms,” said Washington Post on Tuesday, saying that it is a marked escalation in tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours. According to the Diplomat website, India’s recent actions mark a turning point in the current crisis, and “China and India may face a long and cold winter”. New clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the border region show that tensions between the two most populous powers that began in June will not end easily, Iran’s Pars Today said on Tuesday. The Indian Army has added 30,000 troops to the border and deployed a large number of tanks, artillery and air forces to cope with the PLA’s construction of roads, bridges, airports and other military facilities on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control. The PLA has amassed large numbers of troops in Tibet and built fortifications along the border in preparation for the troops to spend the winter on the plateau. According to India Today, Indian and Chinese tanks “have been deployed close to each other and within firing range of each other”.
There are also some analysts who believe that the possibility of war between China and India is not very high. ‘The fact that the previous June 15 incident, despite the casualties, did not lead to a larger conflict is a positive sign that senior leaders on both sides are not interested in sparking any kind of war,’ Kelsey Broderick, China analyst at Eurasia Group was quoted as saying by CNBC. But she also said the process of detente between India and China would take “a long time”.
Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar left for Russia on Monday for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting after a short “technical stop” in Tehran. Indian mainstream media attached great importance to the visit of Jaishankar and saw his meeting with Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi as a window of opportunity for effecting a “turning point” in the stand-off on the border. Before his visit, Jaishankar reiterated that China and India “need to engage in in-depth dialogue at the political level” and that “maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the basis for development of bilateral relations”. The Izvestia newspaper said Moscow could help resolve the conflict. ‘Both countries are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and have good relations with Russia, so it is logical to hold talks on Russian territory,’ said Kashin, an expert at Russia’s Higher School of Economics. The US, on the other hand, “has an interest in expanding the conflict between China and India”, without concealing its intention to let India contain China. Therefore, US President Trump’s offer to mediate China-India relations met with flat refusal from China.