India has bolstered its defences and accused Beijing of being “provocative” amid a new flare-up on the India-China border. Now, China has bitten back.
India has bolstered its defences and accused Beijing of being “provocative” amid a new flare-up on the India-China border. Now, China has bitten back.

‘Aggressive’ China fronts up to India

India has accused China of "provocative military movements" in the Himalayas as both sides race to assemble forces before the onset of winter. But the real cause may be behind Chinese lines.

New Delhi is believed to have rushed 800 troops to the Indian side of Pangong Tso Lake, some 4200m above sea level, in response to incursions by Beijing's forces.

"Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity on the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake, undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on the ground," an Indian Army statement asserts.

The lake forms part of the boundary between India and occupied Tibet, which was invaded by overwhelming Chinese forces in 1950. It's leader, the Dalai Lama, has been in enforced exile ever since.

The disputed border between India and China. Picture: University of Texas Libraries
The disputed border between India and China. Picture: University of Texas Libraries

Indications are Tibet is proving resistant to Chinese attempts at assimilation. And this may help explain Beijing's growing aggressiveness along its shared border with India.

The latest incursion came even as China President Xi Jinping asserted to his military that "safeguarding" Tibet's border security must be a high priority.

State-controlled media quotes him as saying the People's Liberation Army (PLA) must "solidify border defences and ensure frontier security" as well as ensuring "national security and enduring peace and stability". He added that Tibet must "form an impregnable fortress in maintaining stability".

The latest crisis comes after a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in June. Some 20 Indian soldiers died in the fight involving fists and metal bars. China has not revealed the number of its fatalities.
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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian yesterday denied any new troop movements. He maintains his country's frontier forces "have always strictly adhered to the line of actual control and have never crossed the line".

It's a similar fait accompli argument as being applied to the South China Sea. There, Beijing has unilaterally moved to occupy disputed territory while insisting its ownership is undisputed.

FORCES MOBILISED

Reports have emerged of the arrival of Chinese J-20 stealth fighters at an airfield next to the disputed border amid a massive military build-up along the China-India border.

"The J-20 fighter jets have been operating close to the Indian territory in the last few days, and the move was taken by the Chinese air force just a few days before their army attempted to do incursions into newer areas in Ladakh," government sources reportedly told India Today.

The J-20s are based at the Hotan air base in Xinjiang province.

India Today quotes government officials as saying China has hastily upgraded several air bases in the area by building hardened shelters and extending runways.

"Satellites and other forms of surveillance are being used to keep an eye on the seven Chinese military bases which are situated in Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous Military Region," it quotes its sources as saying.

Indian sources have also highlighted the construction of a heliport near Doklam (the junction between India, China and Bhutan). Another two are in the process of assembly, one near Galwan Valley and another near the northern shore of Pangong Tso Lake.

These and a suspected new surface-to-air missile facility are being built to support thousands of fresh Chinese troops moved into the Ladakh region before and after the June clash.

"It suggests that Beijing plans to more aggressively pursue its territorial claims along its western border," Stratfor geopolitical analyst Sim Tack said.

"With the addition of a heliport along with the aerial denial systems within 100km from Doka La and Naku La, China would be able to sustain all-weather operations in the disputed areas regardless of the harsh terrain and conditions."

CHINESE 'SEEDS OF LOVE' IN TIBET

Tibet itself remains unhappy under Beijing's yoke, despite 70 years of strict Chinese Communist Party (CCP) control. This was implied by the Xinhua state media report which highlighted Xi's call to "educate the public to fight against separatism" and "strengthen the unity of all ethnic groups in Tibet".

The Chinese leader told the seventh Central Symposium on Tibet Work, held in Beijing on Saturday, that the Communist Party must demand absolute loyalty to "counter major (ideological) battles and prevent major risks".

Tibet had to "adapt to socialism and Chinese conditions," he said, adding that political re-education campaigns in the occupied territory would be stepped up to "plant the seeds of loving China in the depths of the hearts of every youth".

The Dalai Lama has accused Beijing of conducting "cultural genocide" against his people.

The symposium consisted of top Chinese Politburo members, military and police leaders, and heads of the judiciary. CCP-appointed officials from Tibet also attended.

 

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) told Reuters that Xi's remarks showed Chinese rule still needed to be imposed with an "iron fist".

"If Tibetans really benefited as much from Chinese leadership as Xi and other officials claim, then China wouldn't have to fear separatism and wouldn't need to subject Tibetans to political re-education," ICT president Matteo Mecacci said.

China has recently begun blocking diplomatic access to Tibet as the world seeks to investigate claims of human rights abuses there. The treatment of the Uighur people in neighbouring occupied Xinjiang has resulted in worldwide condemnation.

In July, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fanned the dispute by declaring Washington's support for "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet.

NO SIGN OF SETTLEMENT

Chinese military spokesman Colonel Zhang Shuili accused Indian troops of a violation of the status quo, calling their weekend actions "counter-productive and treacherous".

"The Indian army undermined the consensus reached in the previous multi-level talks between the two sides and once again illegally crossed the line on the south bank of Pangong Lake and near the Reqin Pass, blatantly provoking and causing tension on the border," he said.

This, he said, "seriously violated China's territorial sovereignty" and "severely undermined the peace and stability of the Sino-Indian border area".

"We solemnly request the Indian side to immediately withdraw its illegally crossing troops, strictly control and restrain its frontline troops, earnestly abide by its commitments and avoid further escalation of the situation."

 

But India regards the southwest edge of the lake to be the natural boundary between it and Tibet.

A statement issued by India military insists this is based on a "previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh".

Ongoing attempts at talks between Indian and Chinese border forces to de-escalate tensions have repeatedly broken down. India accuses China of refusing to return to their previous positions. China accuses Indian troops of occupying its territory.

For the time being feels as though there's no sign of a settlement.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

Originally published as 'Aggressive': China fronts up to India


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