China annexes 60 square km of India in Ladakh as simmering tensions erupt between two superpowers
Tensions across the border have long been high - PRAKASH SINGH / AFP via Getty Images
China has occupied more than sixty square kilometers of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, according to a high-ranking Indian army source, which dramatically escalates the simmering tension between the two Asian superpowers.
The Daily Telegraph can show that up to 12,000 Chinese troops were pushed across the border into India in border collisions last month when Beijing tried to beat Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi because of his ever closer relationship with the United States.
The move reflects Xi Jinping's expansionism in the South China Sea, where Beijing moved to build military bases in a contested area and remained unchallenged due to its superior military.
The United Nations calls for restraint and talks between the two nations to escalate the conflict.
Konchok Stanzin, a Chushul constituency councilor where the incident took place, told The Telegraph: "In the past, we have had two encounters between two armies and the situation would cool down within a few hours.
"It is the first time in over a month that we have a standoff. We are worried about our life and our country."
There have been reports of de-escalation this week, but it is unclear whether this is due to the local movement or whether India is simply trying to save the face.
Beijing and New Delhi have been patrolling both sides of the Actual Control Line (LAC) that separates Chinese Tibet from Ladakh, India, since an armistice was agreed in 1962.
Indian patrols in eastern Ladakh stop in winter and spring, as heavy snowfall in the Himalayas makes the terrain tricky.
But the coronavirus pandemic meant that it was slow to intensify this year, and Chinese troops took advantage and crossed the LAC in four locations on May 5th and 6th.
A total of forty square kilometers were occupied in Pangong Tso and twenty square kilometers on the Galwan River, with minor incursions in Hot Springs and Demchok, a senior source from the Indian army said to the Telegraph.
Satellite photos of the Ngari Gansa civil-military airport base in China, taken on April 1, left and May 17, 2020 near the border with India, show the development - Planet Labs via AP
70 Indian troops were injured in fistfighting and stone throwing attempts to stop the advance.
Weapons are not used when Chinese and Indian soldiers collide, as this is understood as a complete declaration of war.
India, which admits that Chinese troops are "in considerable numbers", is trying to use the ongoing bilateral talks to persuade China to withdraw from the territories it occupies.
However, China is believed to have built defenses in Pangong Tso and, according to well-placed sources, has brought up to 12,000 soldiers to the new border.
India has also increased the presence of troops, transported artillery and Boforus cannons to Ladakh.
The confrontation with India along the border is Beijing's way of putting New Delhi in its place. Chinese officials are unwilling to tolerate what they see as India's growing bragging rights, a strategic competitor and neighbor, under Mr. Modi.
Lin Minwang, a Chinese foreign policy expert at Fudan University, said: “Modi's general diplomacy was inclined to ally with the United States. China is currently very disappointed with India. "
India's infrastructural development along the border - including a road in Lipulekh that has angered its emerging Chinese ally Nepal - is seen by Beijing as "underhanded China while in a weak position [and] in broader strategic competition with the United States suppressing it has made China very angry. "
While Chinese officials have said little publicly, the State Department has defended its actions as necessary and even cautious in response to provocations from India - a language that resembles the government's justification of territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Tensions during the coronavirus pandemic have not helped.
Leh Ladakh District, adjacent to China - NOEMI CASSANELLI / AFP via Getty Images
Kanti Prasad Bajpai, an expert in China-India relations and a professor at the National University of Singapore, said: “India has sent deliveries to China and felt that the Chinese were not very grateful. China publicly thanked countries for delivering supplies, but never publicly thanked India. "
As the pandemic spread, India, like other nations, had to scrap poor-quality medical supplies purchased from China.
Mr. Bajpai said: “The Indians felt cheated by the Chinese. China rejected the allegations that the Indians had been type. There was a bit of bad blood around that. "
Mr. Modi's move to profile himself as a courageous leader at home and abroad also contradicts Mr. Xi's same tactic of developing a strong image.
Experts say that a full-scale war remains unlikely with a lengthy de-escalation process, primarily because of operational challenges at high altitudes, since neither side wants to give the impression of a cave.
But until China and India finally agree on border demarcation - which they have never been able to do - "the possibility of a border skirmish, a limited border conflict or a full-fledged conventional war cannot be taken off the table," said Monika Chansoria, China specialist and senior Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.
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