Since 2013, India’s military has dealt with a decade of stepped-up confrontation with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on their 3,488-kilometre-long border. This aggressive phase began in April 2013, in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector. The following year, violence broke out again in September 2014 near the border village of Demchok. After about three weeks, both sides agreed to withdraw troops. The next serious incident occurred in mid-June 2017, when Chinese road construction crews, escorted by border guards, intruded into the Doklam bowl, disputed between China and Bhutan. Hundreds of Indian troops in the vicinity, acting in accordance with New Delhi’s foreign policy coordination treaty with Thimphu, crossed into Doklam from Sikkim and physically blocked Chinese border guards. The face-off that ensued was resolved only after 73 days when both sides agreed to disengage troops.
In the latest and ongoing standoff, in the spring of 2020 after India cut back on patrolling the Ladakh border because of the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of PLA troops crossed the LAC and occupied Indian-claimed territory. In diplomatic and military talks between the two sides, the Chinese ascribed their crossing of the LAC to India’s drive to build border infrastructure, and also to New Delhi’s political changes in 2019 in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Three years on, the PLA’s intrusions into six areas in Eastern Ladakh – Depsang, Galwan, PP-15, Gogra-Hot Spring, Pangong North Bank and Pangong South Bank – have added a new dimension to the management of the Sino-India border. The casualties on both sides have brought down the curtains on the hard-won peace that was supported with five border agreements. India would have to henceforth take nothing for granted.
This talk would focus on the following questions: Are there any lessons to be learned from this decade of uncertain peace? Why does China appear to be focusing on Ladakh, rather than Arunachal Pradesh? How long can the current state of affairs persist if India continues to push for status quo ante? What do the past three years of negotiations with China tell us about what should be our hopes and achievements and should we think in terms of an honourable exit? Finally, instead of discernible progress towards peace in Gogra, Galwan, Pangong and Demchok, are we headed back towards 1959?
About the Speaker
Colonel (Retired) Ajai Shukla is a journalist who writes mainly for the national daily, Business Standard, on defence and strategic affairs, international relations and the defence economy. His articles also appear in The New York Times, Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera and other international publications. Ajai Shukla also hosts a strategic affairs blog, Broadsword (ajaishukla.blogspot.com). Before joining Business Standard, he worked with NDTV from 2001-2008 as a prime time news anchor and war correspondent. He reported on the insurgencies in India’s northeastern states and in Jammu & Kashmir. He remains a frequent commentator on news television and the web media. Before taking up journalism, Ajai served more than two decades as a combat soldier in the Indian army, retiring as a colonel after commanding a tank regiment. He graduated from the National Defence Academy, Kharakvasla and Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. He has a degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University and post-graduate degrees from Madras University and King’s College, London.
About the Chair
Prof. Alka Acharya is Honorary Director of the ICS and Chairperson at the Centre for East Asian Studies, SIS, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has been teaching courses on Chinese Foreign Policy and Political Economy to the Masters and M.Phil. students and guiding doctoral research since 1993. She is the joint editor of the book Crossing a Bridge of Dreams: 50 years of India-China and has contributed chapters to many books and journals. She has authored a book China & India: Politics of Incremental Engagement, published in 2008 and most recently edited a volume titled Boundaries and Borderlands: A Century after the 1914 Simla Convention (Routledge, New York 2023). She was nominated by the Indian government as a member of the India-China Eminent Persons Group (2006-2008) and member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India for two terms (2006-2008) and (2011-2012).
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