Widening Horizons, Open Doors
Violent exchanges have occurred in the past between the Chinese and not only Indian army soldiers, but also the local Buddhist population, which deeply resents the Chinese presence in the Galwan River region. India had a military presence in the Galwan River Valley in 1962, which was overrun by Chinese forces during the Sino-Indian conflict on October 19-20 that year. There is, therefore, no legal or historical basis for Chinese territorial claims across the Pangong Lake and Galwan Valley, which are integral parts of India. China is, however, concerned about the road India is building, which traverses the Pangong Tso and the Galwan River to the border town of Daulat Beg Oldie, where India has built an airport capable of accommodating transport aircraft. Daulat Beg Oldie is located at a distance of around 8 kilometres from China’s strategic Aksai Chin region, which links its Buddhist-dominated Tibet, and its Muslim-dominated Xinjiang Provinces, where China is facing serious pressures from people asking for democratic governance.
India has now shed its earlier inhibitions about security partnerships with countries in its Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean neighbourhood. China has serious differences on its maritime boundaries with virtually all its neighbours, including Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia. India has not yet been able to respond in any appropriate or meaningful manner to the continuous supply of weapons, nuclear weapons designs, ballistic missiles, fighter aircraft and warships by China to Pakistan. There is a strong feeling in India that the time has come for New Delhi to respond positively to requests from Vietnam, a good friend with a remarkably fast-growing economy, with the supply of weapons systems like Brahmos Missiles, to enable Vietnam to counter Chinese maritime threats. India will hopefully discard its old reservations by expanding military cooperation with friendly regional countries like Vietnam.
Nevertheless, military and diplomatic consultations between India and China are continuing on an almost daily basis. Russia’s President Putin appears keen to see that differences between the two countries are sorted out, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov publicly urged reconciliation when he met his Chinese and Indian counterparts recently. Russia appears to be emerging as a facilitator, urging reconciliation between New Delhi and Beijing. Moscow is looking carefully at the US-Japan-Australia-India ‘QUAD’ grouping, whose members are expanding cooperation on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. New Delhi, however, would like to see a situation where China accepts and respects national borders, and stops backing political parties and leaders who are not friendly to India, all across its land and maritime frontiers.