While the India-China border conflict has worsened with Beijing deploying additional troops along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, it is no coincidence that India’s open boundary neighbor – Nepal has also been building up pressure against New Delhi at the same time.
Experts talking to EurAsian Times have been raising alarm bells over the simultaneous timing of India-China and India-Nepal border dispute, both of that gained momentum in early May.
Background of the Conflicts
The conflict with China involves the undemarcated boundary between India and China, which is known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The boundary is so severely disputed that New Delhi claims it to be 3,488 km long while Beijing believes it to be around 2,000 km long.
The armed forces of both nations attempt to patrol the regions as they perceive the boundary leading to border confrontations in regions like Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Meanwhile, the dispute with Nepal falls at the tri-junction point of India, Nepal and China. The issue ignited with Nepal when India inaugurated a new 80-kilometer long road to Kailash Mansarover in Tibet via the Lipulekh pass near the disputed region of Kalapani.
This led to mass-scale protests followed by many diplomatic and political actions undertaken by the otherwise friendly neighbors.
On the evening of May 5, it was reported that around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers engaged in a violent face-off which continued till the next day, leaving many soldiers injured on both sides.
“The issue was resolved locally by the morning of May 6,” the sources had confirmed. Pangong Tso Lake, a large part of which is claimed by China has witnessed similar incidents in 2017 and 2019 a well.
Just about three days later, on May 9, another face-off was witnessed between the soldiers of India and China near the Naku La sector, a pass at a height of more than 5,000 meters in North Sikkim. The scuffle involved around 150 soldiers that left four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers injured.
Army sources at that time said – “it should be noted that temporary and short duration face-off along the Sikkim border occurs as the boundary issue is not resolved. Troops resolve such issues mutually as per established protocols.”
While Beijing accused the Indian Army of trespassing into its territory, claiming that it was an “attempt to unilaterally change the status” of the LAC in Sikkim and Ladakh, New Delhi outrightly refuted any such claims and said the Chinese military was rather hindering normal patrolling of the Indian troops.
Many experts opined that such issues may continue to occur at the undemarcated borders and will be resolved as per protocol. However, the more recent Galwan valley standoff paints a contrasting picture.
It is reported that China has erected around 100 tents in the last two weeks and has even brought machines to construct bunkers, amidst a fierce objection by the Indian soldiers.
The aggressiveness of China can be noted in China’s Global Times, a newspaper under the control of the Chinese Communist Party which goes on to say —
“The Galwan Valley is not like Doklam because it is in the Aksai Chin region in southern Xinjiang of China, where the Chinese military has an advantage with advance infrastructure. So, if Delhi escalates the conflict, the Indian military could pay a heavy price.”
It was reported that China has been aggressively deploying more soldiers in the region. In response, the Indian Army has also been building up its military presence in Pangong Tso lake and Galwan Valley.
On May 8, the Indian defense minister inaugurated a new road to Kailash Mansarover via the Lipulekh pass near the disputed region of Kalapani which reignited tensions between the two neighboring countries that claim the region as a part of their nation.
On May 11, the Nepal Ministry of Foreign Affairs sharply objected and mentioned that “In light of this development (the road), the Government of Nepal called upon the Government of India to refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal.”
The situation went as far that Nepal even threatened India to deploy its troops over the region.
Some 10 days later, Nepal launched a new map that included the disputed regions of Lipulekh, Limipiyhura and Kalapani as a part of their territory. India staunchly opposed the map even as New Delhi had also included the disputed territories in its own region since October 2019.
The spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs — Anurag Srivastava said the map released by the Nepalese government is a unilateral action that is not based on any historical fact or evidence.
The China Factor in Nepal
Amidst the hurly-burly of the newly ignited Nepal’s concern, experts have found a Chinese connection that finds its way deep into Nepal’s politics.
A PhD. in International Relations expert who wished to stay anonymous told the EurAsian Times — “The issue with Nepal could have been sorted well within our bilateral framework. But, the sudden change and approach of Nepal towards India, could not rule out China’s backing to Nepal’s government up against India. And also to the internal political power interplays within Nepal”
Generally, China’s position in Nepal has not been in question due to its external nature that does not interfere in the country’s politics “-a standard diplomatic stance.”
However, “over the past decade, mainly after the abolition of the monarchy in 2008, China began to increase its influence with regard to all political parties” believes Kamal Dev Bhattarai, a Kathmandu based Journalist.
The transition from Monarchy to a parliamentary republic with a multi-party system in 2008 changed Beijing’s stance with Kathmandu.
“In the past, one could notice China’s involvement in the development of infrastructure but not in soft areas. Of late, China has been penetrating in Nepali politics as well as in society,” says political analyst Chandra Dev Bhatta.
Since the controversial road that Nepal objects to is also the first road that provides connectivity to the Indian troops deployed on the Line of Actual Control with China in Uttarakhand, it is believed by defense experts including the Indian Chief of Army, that “Nepal may have raised the issue at someone else’s behest.”
China vs India: Speculations
While some critics believe that the global condemnation of the Covid-19 pandemic on China and the stringent FDI policies put against China by India along with some supply chains moving out of China has triggered China to take up violent means on all frontlines, others rather think it to be unlikely.
“China has opened up the border in all three sectors — in Sikkim, Ladakh and via Nepal in Uttarakhand. Some reports said China was trying to build a road along the Amo Chu in Bhutanese territory. Clearly, the intention is to put India under pressure” writes a media expert on defense.
Also, since China’s is currently amidst ‘2 Sessions’, two-week annual meetings of the CPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Process) and NPC (National People’s Congress), it has been seen that the general sensibility during this time tends to be on harsh and bold moves.
Review By: Vipasha Kaushal