"It’s more misplaced nationalism than anything else."
The melee between the soldiers of India and China last June 20, in Ladakh’s Galway Valley, served to rekindle the long and undemarcated boundary that separates the two countries in an area dubbed as the “roof of the earth.” Elevated at an average of 10,000 feet above sea-level, the 3,488-kilometer border stretches from India’s Arunachal Pradesh to the disputed territory of Kashmir. The disputed border covers about 13,000 square kilometres in Ladakh and Aksai Chin and about 35,000 square miles in the northeastern which China calls South Tibet.
The particular incident in June 20 happened on the ridge of Galwan Valley overlooking the strategic Darbul-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road leading to Aksai Chin and Karakoram Pass. Although there was previous agreement that Chinese patrol will withdraw, it will not detract the fact that the melee started in an area occupied by a Chinese outpost.
India reported that 20 of its soldiers were killed in that rumble using stones and bamboo sticks stud with nails. Some said that Indian soldiers fell from the ridge into the Galwan River. China has not reported any casualty though some believe they too suffered injuries and that filtered out after China reacted to fake news stating that about 40 Chinese soldiers were killed.
The latest of the border war between China and India elucidates the difficulties to reach an agreement over boundaries bequeathed by the British, an imperial colonial power, notorious in consolidating and subdividing its dominions on the basis of what suits its economic interest. This explains why the Asian Subcontinent and Central Asia remain to have porous boundaries. Attempts to formalize them came after the whole of India was placed under the British Raj.
Among the demarcated boundary-lines were: First, the Ardagh–Johnson Line. W. H. Johnson proposed the "Johnson Line" in 1865, which put Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir. This was when China did not control Xinjiang, but was never presented to the Chinese.
Second, the Macartney-Macdonald Line. This map was given by Hung Ta-chen to the British consul at Kashgar in 1893. The boundary, marked with a thin dot-dashed line matched the Johnson line.
In 1899, Britain proposed a revised boundary, initially suggested by Macartney and the Governor General of India Lord Elgin. This boundary placed the Lingzi Tang plains, which are south of the Laktsang range, in India, and Aksai Chin proper, which is north of the Laktsang range, in China.
Third, in 1927, the line was adjusted abandoning the Johnson line in favour of a line along the Karakoram Range to further south.
Fourth, after India’s independence in 1947, India fixed its official boundary in the west, which included the Aksai Chin, in a manner that resembled the Ardagh–Johnson Line—but the Chinese government never admitted that India's basis for defining the border was “chiefly by long usage and custom.”
Fifth, the McMahon Line (1913–14), a proposed boundary between Tibet and India for the eastern sector. Beijing soon objected to the proposed Sino-Tibet boundary. Beijing refused to sign the final and more detailed map.
Sixth, the Trans Karakoram Tract. On 13 October 1962, China and Pakistan began negotiations over the boundary west of the Karakoram Pass.
The brief war in 1962 that lasted a month took place in the area known as Aksai-Chin and in the Northeast Frontier of Assam, cost China an estimated 2,022 casualties while India suffered the loss of 1,383 men. According to official military estimates, the war achieved China's policy of securing its borders in the western sector, as it retained de facto control of the Aksai Chin.
Minor skirmishes at the Nathu La and Cho La in 1967 and the Doklam military standoff in June 2017. The area is in the disputed territory of Doklam, near the Doka La pass. Bhutan issued a demarche asking China to restore the status quo as of before June 16.
Some interpret the heightened tension as India’s response to the clarion call of President Trump to relocate US businesses from China which India is not prepared given its poor infrastructure, lack of skilled labor and stringent foreign investment restrictions.
India insists that there is no border that links China with Pakistan. India claims the proposed pan highway passes through disputed area of Gilgit and Baltistan, ignoring India’s concern for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. As if to tighten the belt, India revoked the special status granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. Analysts say that unless the tension over Kashmir is resolved, China will not be able to continue the highway to reach all the way to the port of Gwadar. India has rejected the BRI, citing CPEC, which passes through India-claimed territory as an infringement of its sovereignty.
Maybe the best option for India is not to follow the call of the “Pied Piper” for that could only lead them to complete ruin and economic disaster. The clamor of the US to relocate production from China to India is more of an empty talk. Ultimately, it is those affected that will still decide whether the new site will offer them the best and the highest chance of earning profit.
Maintaining the status quo of economic cooperation is a tempting win-win formula they cannot avoid. At present, China is India’s biggest trading partner accounting to 18 percent of its imports and 9 percent of its exports. Report says India relies more on China not only for finished goods but also for intermediate goods used for domestic production.
According to Money Control Ready Reckoner, 75 percent of the smartphones sold in India are made by Chinese companies. The number of smartphone users in India is expected to rise by 84 percent that is from 468 million in 2017 to 859 million by 2022.
Apple says iPhone is “built everywhere in the world” but many of its components still come from China. China accounts for 67 percent of its imports in electronic components (market Size Rs 5,300 billion). Semiconductors and integrated circuits, which are the heart of modern electronic devices, such as laptops and phones, are among the components that India buys from China.
67 percent of India's active pharmaceutical ingredients come from China. India imported $2.6 billion worth of these chemicals during the April-December 2019 period. Of this, $1.8 billion worth of APIs came from China.
45 percent of consumer durables are imported from China. The sector is estimated to be around Rs 763 billion ($11.2-billion in FY19). AC, refrigerators and televisions lead the pack. 45 percent of the smart TVs sold in India are Chinese, with alternatives costlier by 20-45 percent. 38 percent of imported leather goods like shoes come from China. The market size of the leather products is worth Rs 780 billion ($11.5 billion in FY19).
18 percent of India’s auto components come from China with a market worth Rs 3,590 billion ($53-billion). India imports $460 million worth of synthetic yarn and $360 million worth of synthetic fabric from China annually. It also imports over $140 million worth of accessories like buttons, zippers, hangers and needles.
With this statistical economic comparison, it would appear that the tension generated by India is more of misplaced nationalism coupled with pride that China has overtaken it. This is aggravated by Pakistan also economically threatening to surpass them. Should Pakistan board China’s BRI it will open wide its gates to the Arabian Sea to bring forth the magic of prosperity though unhampered trading.