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Sino-India Relations: Clashes and Dynamics

Rohan Giri

The aggression by the Communist Party of China (CPC) through the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the Indian border has been a source of tension between India and China. The CPC\’s activities encompass infrastructure development, PLA buildup, and territorial assertions. One particular area of contention in the ongoing border contentions between the China and India is the Pangong Tso glacial lake region, which stretches across eastern Ladakh and western Tibet. In the aftermath of the violent clash in the Galwan Valley in 2020, both nations have notably escalated their respective regional infrastructure development endeavours.


In recent years, the CPC has actively pursued infrastructure projects along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with a particular focus on the Pangong Tso glacial lake area. Notably, one significant development is the construction of a bridge that spans the glacial lake, linking the north and south banks. This bridge holds significant strategic value for the CPC, as it improves connectivity and enables the smooth movement of military assets. Moreover, the CPC has successfully completed the construction of a second bridge and is currently working on establishing road connectivity along the south bank leading to Shandong village. Moreover, the CPC is currently undertaking the construction of a 22 km-long tunnel along the G-0177 expressway in Yuli, which will serve as a crucial link to the G-216 highway in Tibet. These infrastructure projects clearly demonstrate the CPC\’s unwavering commitment to strengthen its presence and enhance its military capabilities in the region.

The aggressive development pursued by the CPC is consistent with its regional ambitions and the aim to extend its influence and control over strategically important areas along its boundaries with India. This approach enables the CPC to assert power and establish dominance in border regions, potentially curtailing India\’s influence. Moreover, these developments reinforce China\’s publicised  military capabilities and fortify border security, safeguarding its territorial claims and perceived national interests. However, India has also responded strongly to curtail China\’s influence by actively engaging in infrastructure development initiatives in the Pangong Tso area. India has placed significant emphasis on enhancing road networks, establishing advanced landing grounds, and implementing other infrastructure projects. Construction work is currently underway to create an alternate axis to the crucial Darbuk-Skyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road, further improving connectivity and mobility in the region. The construction activities undertaken by the CPC have not only provoked India but have also necessitated the development of infrastructure in response. These infrastructure developments by both the China and India have resulted in a permanent alteration of the status quo in the Pangong Tso area. The construction of the bridge by the CPC and the black-topped road by India signify their respective efforts to consolidate their presence and enhance their military capabilities in the region. These infrastructure developments underscore the importance of constructive dialogue to prevent further escalation of tensions and uphold regional stability.

The CPC is confronted with border tensions on multiple fronts as a result of its aggressive infrastructure development and encroachment policies. One notable area of contention is the South China Sea, where CPC\’s territorial claims, represented by the nine-dash line, clash with the claims of neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. These conflicting claims have sparked maritime disputes, heightened tensions, and escalated military presence in the region.

Furthermore, in the Taiwan Strait, CPC regards Taiwan as an integral part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve assimilation. The Taiwan Strait remains a potential hotspot, with CPC intensifying military activities and conducting drills near the self-governing island. This situation has strained cross-strait relations and attracted the attention of regional and global powers.

In the Himalayan region, the CPC has long-standing border disputes with neighbouring countries, including India, Bhutan, and Nepal. The Chinese shallow and illegal claims in border areas have been vehemently contested, leading to CPC’s frustration leading to standoffs in the region.

In addition to the aforementioned disputes, the CPC and Japan have a territorial disagreement concerning the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Both nations assert sovereignty over these islands, which has resulted in frequent standoffs and heightened military presence in the region. The CPC\’s claims and actions have raised substantial concerns among numerous countries. The construction of artificial islands, the militarisation of certain features, and assertive behaviour in disputed areas have prompted questions regarding the CPC\’s intentions and its adherence to international norms. Thus, the CPC\’s approach demonstrates a non-conformist mindset characterised by engaging in illegal infrastructure development, encroaching upon contested territories, and violating the sovereignty of other nations. An illustrative instance of this behaviour is observed in the South China Sea, which serves as a prominent example of a disputed territory. In this region, the CPC has undertaken the construction of artificial islands and the establishment of military installations in areas that are claimed by multiple countries. These actions have significantly heightened tensions and disputes with neighbouring nations, and have cast doubts on the CPC\’s adherence to international laws and agreements, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Coming back to intricate dynamics of Sino-India relations, which are characterised by complexity and nuance. It is important to maintain realistic expectations regarding the stability of the relationship, considering the long-standing territorial disputes between the two nations. The CPC\’s failure to adequately address these disputes contributes to the ongoing instability in their bilateral ties.

Additionally, both the China and India hold significant regional power status, and their geopolitical and strategic interests often intersect, leading to competition and conflicting priorities. Both countries are experiencing rapid economic growth and play prominent roles in the global marketplace. This economic competition, particularly in sectors such as manufacturing and technology, can strain their bilateral relations. Issues such as trade imbalances, market access, and protection of intellectual property rights further contribute to the complexities and potential frictions between them.

India\’s impressive economic growth positions it as a potential future global powerhouse. With its dynamic and youthful workforce, expanding middle class, and thriving technology sector, India is poised for significant economic development. Furthermore, India actively engages in international forums and has taken on leadership roles in global affairs.

While there are areas of potential cooperation between India and the China, such as trade and addressing climate change, it is crucial to recognise the underlying competition that exists across economic, political, and strategic domains. Understanding the intricacies of Sino-India relations requires an appreciation of both the cooperative and competitive aspects of their interaction.

(Author is operations manager at Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, non-partisan think tank based in New Delhi)

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