India and China are still far away from resolving their border issue despite 28 rounds of diplomatic dialogue and 21 rounds of military-level talks. The contested borders have complicated border security, heightened political hostility, and imposed unequal costs on both Asian neighbors. It is important to mention that the border issue between India and China is not new; it dates back to the 1950s.

The two countries even fought a brief but brutal war over it in October 1962. Indian forces suffered a political and psychologically devastating defeat in the 1962 war. The conflict continues and its legacy is being felt today. Moreover, the recent decision by India to move up a contingent of 10,000 soldiers from its Western borders to guard its 532 km (331 miles) border with China in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh has indicated that tensions are not easing.

It also signaled the hardening of respective positions by the two sides. The deployment of additional troops by India did not go unnoticed in Beijing.

A spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry – Mao Ning responded by saying that “India’s practice is not conducive to safeguarding peace and is not conducive to easing tensions”. He further added that “India’s increase in military deployments in border areas does not help to calm the situation in the border areas or to safeguard peace and safety in these areas”.

India and China share a perceived undefined more than 3,488 km long border in the Himalayas that passes through Ladakh Kashmir and four Indian states: Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. This border between nuclear-armed India and China is called the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This de facto border is divided into three sectors; the western sector is comprised of Aksai Chin in Ladakh, the middle sector is near Nepal, and the eastern sector runs through Arunachal Pradesh.

China claims almost 90,000 square Kilometers of land in northeastern India, whereas India claims 38,000 square kilometers of China’s land in the Himalayan region’s Aksai Chin Plateau. The most serious conflict between India and China is over the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China views as part of Southern Tibet.

These overlapping territorial claims in the Himalayas are the major source of friction that resulted in violent clashes between Indian and Chinese frontier troops. As a result, both Asian powers have increased infrastructure development, built roads, outpost stations, and airstrips, and have heavily militarized the region. The purpose behind all this effort is to strengthen strategic positions, to achieve tactical advantages against each other, and to boost sovereignty claims.

These developments and competing claims pushed the two sides towards several border standoffs in recent decades. It includes the Depsang standoff (2013), the Doklam standoff (2017), and the Ladakh conflict (2020). The Ladakh conflict was the most serious one in 45 years that resulted in the death of 20 Indian Soldiers. It included the commanding officer of 16 Bihar, the unit involved in the clash. Later China also acknowledged the death of its four soldiers. It marked the first time since 1975 that two sides suffered causalities.

After the Ladakh conflict in 2020, India and China’s border skirmishes continued, with many occurrences being reported after extended pauses.

According to media reports, Chinese and Indian troops clashed with each other twice in 2022. The first incident occurred in January 2022 and the second happened in November 2022. The incidents involved hand-to-hand combat and no deaths were reported. These incidents highlight that a final resolution is still a distant reality.

The two sides tried to turn the page on tensions over prolonged stand-offs through comprehensive and in-depth discussions via the relevant diplomatic and military mechanisms but failed to achieve the desired results. The two sides attended the 21st round of corps commander-level talks at the Chusual-Moldo meeting point on the LAC to seek a mutually acceptable solution. However, they achieved little progress in attaining complete disengagement along LAC in eastern Ladakh. Friction persists in two specific areas; Depsang plains and Demchok.

The two sides won’t be able to achieve complete disengagement without resolving the legacy issues of Demchok and Depsang Plains. Moreover, the current reality at the border continues to overshadow India-China bilateral relations. We can observe visible signs of discomfort and unease on both sides. Senior officials from India like External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar repeatedly characterized the relationship with China as “Abnormal” and “tense”. India under the Modi government adheres to a rigid and inflexible position that the restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas is a prerequisite for the normalization of relations.

India’s behavior serves as the major hurdle to advance negotiations to seek mutually beneficial solutions. India shoulders responsibility for border conflict as its irresponsible actions provoked China. Some of these actions include the abrogation of Article 370 that carved out disputed Ladakh as a separate union territory. The constitutional remodeling of IIOJK was a serious miscalculation by India under the Modi government. Moreover, India increased the pace of infrastructure development work along LAC post-Doklam crisis; this was a source of discomfort for China. Some other reasons include India’s opposition to CPEC, employment of different strategies to discourage China from asserting influence in South Asia, and its participation in US-led initiatives aimed against China – notably Quad. Which China believes is an “Asia-Pacific NATO”.

China currently is not comfortable with the current state of relations with India. It is evident from the fact that for 16 months, China has been without an ambassador to India.

The post got vacant when the previous ambassador Sun Weidong was elevated to a foreign vice-ministership back in November 2022. Moreover, Xi’s decision to skip the G-20 summit in India also showed China’s displeasure. China also has a very different position as compared to India related to border conflict. It is often stressed to put border issues in their “appropriate place” without damaging the overall bilateral relationship.

However, India sticks to its traditional stance, such divergence of position and mutual distrust may lead to sudden flare-ups of violence. India’s confrontational approach towards China, border reinforcements and infrastructure building, and its close cooperation with the US to further anti-China ambitions in the region will further complicate the already fragile situation. India should shun its aggressive, confrontational, and hegemonic agendas in the region. They should realize that good fences make good neighbors. Therefore, it should reassess its actions that are contrary to the efforts to ease the border situation.

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