NEW DELHI: As the Indian and Chinese armies begin the
of disengagement in Galwan Valley, closely monitored with huge distrust marking the process, there are many theories about why China violated agreements and basically trashed a bilateral relationship with India.
The disengagement may happen, but the problem will not go away. The Chinese will be back, because they are pushing more than a boundary claim with India. They are trying to secure a key route of communication and trade, the flagship project of Chinese President
’s Belt and
As events have played out, it is increasingly clear that the Chinese actions are not a “response” to any recent moves India may have made although Beijing would like to portray it as such. China began the hostilities, starting the preparations in April. Hostilities began in May, when India started to counter-deploy rapidly in response to China’s substantial build-up at several points on the Line of Actual Control.
China’s immediate goal is clearly to dominate the recently built 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) road that connects Leh to DBO at the base of the Karakoram Pass. The road, which had to be rebuilt after the initial alignment was found to be unsuitable, runs along the Shyok and Tangtse rivers.
More immediately, China wants to dominate the junction of the Shyok-Galwan river that would threaten Indian movement. Most recently, China complained about this new branch road at the junction with a bridge spanning the multi-channel stream. All of this is well within India’s side of the LAC, and India is well within its rights to build infrastructure here. China has a headstart over India in building border infrastructure, including using the Indian distraction during the Kargil conflict to build a road up to ‘Finger 4’ on the northern bank of Pangong Tso.
The Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road is seen as a threat to China — to the east is Aksai Chin which India claims and China holds, and north is Shaksgam Valley that was illegally ceded to China in the 1960s. By appropriating all of Galwan Valley, China seeks to threaten this road and sit atop the junction of two sub-sectors — Galwan Valley is the southern extremity of what the Indian Army calls “sub-sector north”.
China really wants to preserve the route from Xinjiang, crossing the Karakoram Pass, to the
and into Pakistan, ending at
in Balochistan. If this is indeed the case, it is a given that the Chinese will be back to push against India in the near future again. This is also why China has suddenly changed its tune and is now claiming the entire Galwan Valley. China controls part of the valley, while the rest of it is with India.
Military strategists say the reported Chinese buildup in Depsang is little more than a diversion, to stretch the Indian deployment thin. The prize is Galwan Valley.
The Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road threatens China’s game. India restarted the advanced landing grounds in DBO and Fukche in 2008, as well as the Nyoma airfield. This gives India greater ability to protect itself in inhospitable terrain. More importantly, from China’s point of view, it gives India connectivity to China’s restive Xinjiang province, an actual physical link.
India will continue to be pushed by China in this sector — India begins its boundary with China at the trijunction of boundaries of India, China and Afghanistan, which India stated at the officials’ meeting on the boundary in 1960. Interestingly, at the same meeting, China remained fuzzy about where the boundary began, saying it had never been formally delimited and was only a “traditional customary boundary line”. They actually divided the two countries at the Kongka Pass.
India should expect that China will persist in pushing westwards, exploiting every Indian weakness and gap they can find. Such face-offs will now become the norm.