By Kerem Tuncer
On June 26th, several media outlets reported that China had shut the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim, after accusing India of crossing the boundary without approval. The Chinese Government affirmed this claim, further stating that the pass would remain shut until the Indian troops withdrew from the territory. China has already suspended official pilgrimages to the Nathu La Pass, a crossing point between Sikkim and Tibet.
According to Indian reports, the Chinese troops were the first to exhibit aggression; they smashed two bunkers in early June and had to be stopped by Indian soldiers. An Indian Army brigadier explained, “They tried to push further, and they were filming the action. We stopped them and managed to push them back. But neither they nor we fired.”
During the press conference on the 27th of June, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang announced that China was holding a solemn position which it would continue to hold until New Delhi backed down.
A background of conflict
The Chinese government has been trying to build a road at the Sikkim-Bhutan-China tri-junction. It says that this is being done to increase the safety of travel. This route would give the Chinese direct access to the Siliguri Corridor, a strategic link that connects the northeastern region of India with the rest of the country.
According to Nitin Gokhale, a security analyst at the Swarajya Mag, the Chinese officials had recently brought construction equipment and had started building labour camps. Both these activities came to a halt after the arrival of the Indian forces.
Since the Sino-Indian war, several academicians and politicians had predicted that China would try to take control of the Siliguri Corridor to hinder India’s access to the northeastern region. On the 20th of June, officials from both countries met at the border to discuss the issue. However, the meeting ended in vain as both sides were determined to continue their struggle for dominance over the region.
Endless bones of contention
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has proved to be another bone of contention. India has opposed this corridor as it is planned to be built on Indian-claimed territories on the Pakistan side of the border such as Gilgit-Baltistan. The Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj reportedly told the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping that constructions through Gilgit-Baltistan were unacceptable. Numerous Indian experts on the issue have regarded the CPEC and the Pakistan-China Fiber Optic Project as demonstrating a “strategic intent of besieging India.”
The CPEC is only a minor part of a much larger development project, the Belt and Road Initiative (B&R), which focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries, and aims to accomplish its goal with smaller proposals like the CPEC. Although the B&R plan involves India as a partner, the New Delhi administration protested against the initiative by refusing to send any government officials to the B&R summit in May. In fact, India and Japan partnered to counter the B&R by planning the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, which targets mutual growth in Africa and Asia with aid from India and Japan.
Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to India in April has further deteriorated India-China relations. The Chinese government has deemed the Dalai Lama a separatist, and India’s relations with the leader has irked tensions.
An unsteady future
According to reports, the military standoff between the two BRICS countries is unlikely to cease until unbearable cold sets in and this usually occurs around late October. Chief of the Indian Army Bipin Rawat is scheduled to meet with a group of high-ranking officers from the Chinese Army in the next few days, although neither country is inclined to give in.
The current struggle will surely prevent any improvement in the relations between the two giants. On a brighter note, analysts speculate some positive developments as the countries near the 9th BRICS Summit, which will be taking place in Xiamen, China in mid-September.
The effect of India-US ties
The fact that the border dispute occurred while the Indian Prime Minister Modi was in the US to meet with President Trump suggests a possible coincidence. The meeting provoked strong reactions from the Chinese state-run media, who stated that ‘catastrophic results’ would occur if India were to cooperate with the US against China.
Trump has decided to stand by India on its position on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The United States is yet to release an official statement regarding the developments in Sikkim.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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