Recently, India and China troops clashed along the Yangste river in Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh.This was the first such incident involving the Indian soldiers and Chinese PLA troops since the Galwan Valley incident in 2020.
- According to the India Army, there are certain areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Tawang Sector that are areas of differing perception.
- The LAC is divided into western (Ladakh), middle (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), Sikkim, and eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors.
- India and China do not agree on the LAC. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.
In the Eastern Sector, the alignment of the LAC is along the McMahon Line, the border that was drawn between Great Britain, China, and Tibet at the 1914 Simla Convention.
- The line includes Tawang in the British Empire, which China disputes.
- In 1993, the two sides signed the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control.
- However, the reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed.
Why China has opened new front in Tawang?
- Status quo along the boundary are no longer going to be limited to the Western Sector: China has traditionally been active in areas close to Ladakh given the significance of the Xinjiang-Tibet region in its domestic narrative. However, with its sights on an ageing Dalai Lama, and the issue of his succession, Beijing will want to bring into focus its claims on Tawang, and the rest of Arunachal Pradesh.
- Huge investment in infrastructure in eastern sector: China has invested in infrastructure in the Eastern Sector over many years. This includes rail, road, and air connectivity, better telecommunications, as well as improved capacity to station and supply troops and artillery.
- Centrality of the boundary issue in the India-China relationship: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has repeatedly asserted that it is no longer possible to separate the boundary question from the overall relationship and that peace and tranquillity on the LAC is the key to restoring relations
Importance of Arunachal Pradesh from an Indian/Chinese Perspective:
- Strategic Significance:Arunachal Pradesh, known as the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA) until 1972, is the largest state in the northeast and shares international borders with Tibet to the north and northwest, Bhutan towards the west and Myanmar to the east.The state is like a protective shield to the northeast.
- Bhutan Factor:Taking control of Arunachal would mean that Bhutan would have Chinese neighbours on both its western and eastern borders if Beijing gained control.
- Waterpower: Since, China has control over India’s water supply to the northeastern region, it has constructed several dams and can use water as a geo-strategic weapon against India by causing flooding or drought in the region. In 2000, a dam breach in Tibet caused floods that wreaked havoc in northeast India claiming 30 lives and leaving more than 100 missing.
- Strategic Importance:China’s interest in Tawang could be for tactical reasons as it provides a strategic entry into India’s northeastern region.
- Tawang Monastery: Tawang, which also borders Bhutan, hosts the Galden Namgey Lhatse, the world’s second-largest monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. China claims that the monastery is evidence that the district once belonged to Tibet. They cite historical ties between the Tawang monastery and the Lhasa monastery in Tibet to support their claim over Arunachal.
- Political Significance:When the Dalai Lama escaped Tibet in 1959 amid China crackdown, he entered India through Tawang and stayed in the Tawang monastery for some time.
- Cultural Connections and China’s Anxieties:Tawang is an important center of Tibetan Buddhism and there are some tribes in the upper Arunachal region which have cultural connections to the people of Tibet.
Why India’s China problem is worrying?
- Despite India’s advancement in military capabilities in the past 60 years, China has seen phenomenal economic, technological and military growthand competes with the USA for the global “pole-position”,
- China has imposed a huge economic burden on India’s defence budgetby forcing the “counter-mobilisation” of 50,000-60,000 extra Indian troops,
- India’s post-Covid financial situation and depressed GDP growth rates will not permit any significant hike in defence expenditure,
- India’s liabilities with the “pay and pension” systemmakes modernisation and re-equipment of the armed forces not possible,
- India’s defence budget at present is 2.1% of the GDP. Schemes like Agnipath and bans on the import of military hardware do not save instant money and do not bring instant self-reliance, and
- India not only lacks a China-specific strategy, but also a National Security Strategy (NSS).
How India can solve India’s China problem?
- Resumption of robust economic growth is the only solution for India’s “guns vs butter” dilemma. For this, India should work on effective savings by cutting down on wasteful/non-essential government expenditure, reducing vote-garnering subsidies, or disinvesting/monetising idle assets
- India must acquire absolute clarity about China’s larger objectives and work on military to seek tactical advantage,
- India’s diplomatic policy should shift from “reactive” to “proactive” and start working on reducing Sino-Indian trade deficit of $70 billion,
- India should canvass international opinion via the UN, G20 and other international forumsto pressurize China to come to the negotiating table, and
- The Sino-Indian Border Peace and Tranquility Agreementis now 30 years old, so the government should rework on that agreement to control present aggression.