India and China get along

India-China conflict: dangerous altitude training for two nuclear powers

The village Chamba Tseten comes from does not even exist. At least not on Google Maps. It is so remote, at 4,200 meters above sea level, in the middle of the Himalayas, that it is not shown on the Internet. 600 kilometers from India's capital Delhi, it is only a few kilometers to the border with neighboring China. Tseten has not spoken to his parents on the phone in over five weeks. He is the Academic Program Director at the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh, near the regional capital Leh. The connections to his homeland are dead because of the border conflict, troops are moving in large numbers towards the border, he says on the phone: "People are afraid, even more than they were of Corona." For almost 50 years it was peaceful on the disputed border in the Himalayas. This has changed now.

In mid-June, at least 20 Indian soldiers died in clashes for the first time since the Sino-Indo border war in 1962. What exactly happened in the thin air that night in the Galwan Valley is still not clear. China and India insist that no shot has been fired. This is prevented by some agreements that the two Asian giants have agreed on over the years. Beijing still does not say whether there were victims on the Chinese side.

The fact that the fatal escalation has occurred alarms Delhi and Beijing - and above all the people in Ladakh. "There was nothing like that when I was a kid," says Tseten. The people in the village often spoke of the war. Back then, like so many others, his grandfather was a porter for the army and built bunkers. But the border has been peaceful for so many years.

"Second Cashmere"

Now the media is describing the Indian state as "caught between China and Corona". And as a "second cashmere". As between Pakistan and India, the 3,500-kilometer border between the nuclear powers China and India is controversial in several places. So in the east in Arunachal Pradesh; and there was also a recent confrontation between Bhutan and Nepal in Sikkim. In the west, both countries claim the Aksai Chin and the Siachen Glacier (see map). In Ladakh, hundreds of soldiers face each other in both the Galwan Valley and Lake Pangong.

The disputed areas are all in extremely remote regions. Sometimes the two countries are concerned with the territorial principle, and often with geopolitically important positions. That is why China has been trying for years to expand its influence further south. This was also the case in 2017 at the clash in Doklam, in the three-country triangle India / China / Bhutan. The conflict was settled peacefully. Even with the current escalation, the signs point to peaceful retreat. But in the long term, the interests of the two nuclear powers stand in the way. They both want control of such important water sources in the mountains. They are both under pressure to defend their claims.

Create facts

China has long been ahead in the power game and has created facts across the border in small Nepal, for example: Beijing is supporting a number of road and dam projects there with money and personnel (see also on the right). The country has its backs on Nepal in the latest map conflict with India: In a map published by Nepal, the Kalapani corridor is no longer controversial, but marked as part of Nepal - an affront to India.

Delhi is now trying in no time to catch up along the main Himalayan ridge. Last summer it withdrew its autonomy rights from the troubled province of Kashmir and made Ladakh - previously part of Kashmir - its own federal state. The government is now pushing road construction, especially along the border in Ladakh. The separation from Kashmir was a liberation for the mostly Buddhist Ladakh. With the construction on the border, however, the fragile region is moving into the center of the game of the great powers.

"Boycott China" in India

The conflict comes at an inopportune time for the population. The corona lockdown has already completely paralyzed tourism. Almost half of the Ladakhis are dependent on it. Now many people are going back to their villages, to agriculture, says Tseten. It will take years for tourism to recover. In the beginning, in the 90s, it was mainly international guests who discovered "Little Tibet" in India. Since the successful Bollywood film "Three Idiots", however, more and more Indians have come. The film took place at Lake Pangong - where the soldiers are now facing each other. "Who knows," says Tseten, "maybe the conflict will make the lake even better known."

In the meantime, roadblocks and restrictions are the order of the day, and the mood is heated. Political parties raise the mood against China: "Boycott China" campaigns shape business in Leh, anti-China sentiments are high on Twitter. On Monday, India's government banned 60 Chinese apps, including Tiktok. Tseten is less interested in this. "I don't want to be seen as a friend of China," says Tseten, but advocates dialogue. "We cannot change our neighbors and we have to live with them for the next centuries - this also applies to China. The best way is to talk to one another and benefit from one another." (Anna Sawerthal, July 1st, 2020)