Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Brief History of Indo-China Border Disputes

In recent months, tensions between India and China have spiked due to border clashes between the two sides in the Himalayan region. Ever since India became independent in 1947, China has been aggressive in its land-grab tactics of Indian territory. Here is a brief history of some of the Indo-China border conflicts between these two Asian superpowers.

The clashes

In the 1950s, China constructed a 750-mile road connecting the Xinjiang region to Tibet, part of which passed through an area called Aksai Chin that is claimed by India. It was only in 1957-58 that the Indian government learned of the road. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reiterated that Aksai Chin had been a part of India for several centuries and there would be no debate on this topic. The Chinese side rejected the stance.

In 1960, discussions were held to resolve the issue, but the two nations failed to arrive at common ground. In 1962, a war broke out as China advanced into Indian territory and captured some land. Beijing soon announced a ceasefire, withdrawing its forces to what it claims is the “Line of Actual Control.”

In 1967, military forces from both sides engaged in a series of clashes at the Nathu La and Cho La regions that border the Indian state of Sikkim. The clashes began after Chinese forces attacked the Indian posts at Nathu La. The Indian side is said to have won a decisive victory, with several Chinese military forts at Nathu La destroyed. For much of the remaining century, things remained mostly calm, with only a few skirmishes here and there.

(Image: Thebrowniris via wikimedia CC BY 3.0)
The clashes began after Chinese forces attacked the Indian posts at Nathu La. (Image: Thebrowniris via wikimedia CC BY 3.0)

In 2017, a major standoff took place between the two sides at Doklam, located near the Doka La pass. The Chinese side was caught building a road in the disputed territory. A couple of days after the construction started, Bhutan accused China of violating border agreements. The Indian side eventually blocked the construction of the road. Throughout the months of July and August, the Doklam issue remained hot. However, it soon fizzled out like other earlier disputes.

But in June 2020, things took a nasty turn when Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a direct hand-to-hand confrontation that reportedly caused dozens of casualties on both sides. This time too, the Chinese were said to have been encroaching on disputed territory. The brawl apparently involved no guns, with military personnel from both sides fighting each other with rocks, sticks studded with nails, and so on. Almost 20 Indian soldiers died due to the conflict. On the Chinese side, around 20 to 40 were reportedly killed. However, Beijing refused to reveal the actual number of their casualties.

The current clash

In the most recent clash, the Indian army thwarted a PLA attempt to change the status quo at the border during the last week of August. In a counter operation launched by the Indian forces, the Special Frontier Force (SFF) successfully occupied two key mountain heights that China had been insisting belong to them — Pangong Tso and Rezang La.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
India’s Special Frontier Force successfully occupied two key mountain heights that China had been insisting belong to them. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

The SFF is a paramilitary unit that is comprised mostly of Tibetan refugees who have escaped Chinese Communist Party persecution and settled in India. During the clash at Pangong Tso, one SFF member was killed and another injured. Established in 1962, the SFF has been trained by experts from the Indian military and the CIA.

SFF personnel have been specially trained for infiltration and covert operations, including activities like sabotage, camouflage, counter-insurgency operations, parachute jumps, and so on. Since SFF personnel are mostly people who come from mountainous regions, they make excellent mountain fighters and have been deployed in places like Jammu and Kashmir.

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.

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