Disproving China’s preposterous claims on Galwan Valley
The insidious intentions of China are opportunistic as the aggression has been timed when the world is grappling with the Covid 19 pandemic.
International attention is riveted to the ongoing tensions between India and China along the ‘Line of Actual Control (LAC)’ in the Ladakh region (Refer Map 1).This unilateral violation by China of the existing ‘status quo’, along the border with India at three spatially separated places, in Ladakh, commenced in end April 20, with the buildup of forces in the depth areas, commencing sometime in early January. The events escalated, when the belligerence of the PLA troops, during the military ‘face offs‘ at two of these sites (where the patrols of the two armies come face to face during patrolling up to their respective perception of the LAC) became aggressive in early May 20.
The insidious intentions of China are opportunist, for the aggression has been timed when the world is grappling with the challenges of Covid 19 pandemic, a result of its carelessness. The reasons for the intrusions, range from ‘geo strategic’ gains for shaping future global order, restoration of psychological dominance, dented in the aftermath of ‘Dokhlam crisis of 2017, shameless display of his power and as a lesson for the other nations, who are considering to act in a manner contrarian to his interests.
In China’s perception India is ‘getting too big for its boots’ and needs ‘a rap on the knuckles’. Also, India is the leading nation that is red flagging China’s expansionist designs and demanding a balanced, equitable and inclusive, regional and global order. In addition, ‘Resurgent India’ with a strong political leadership, is rapidly gaining strength and stature. Accelerated infrastructure development of border areas and reassertion of claims on the Chinese controlled Aksai Chin, is reducing the time window for giving shape to his nefarious designs of capturing/ claiming additional Indian territory.
The ongoing ‘stand-off’ between the two armies took an ugly turn, when on the night of 15/16 June, with utter disregard of soldierly ethics, PLA troops carried out an unprovoked attack on Indian troops. The Indian patrol, led by the Commanding officer, deployed at the Galwan valley, was confirming if the terms of the de-escalation agreement had been implemented by the PLA. As they had yet, not moved back there was an exchange of words between the officer and the PLA detachment at the site. It was at this time that without warning, the PLA troops in the rear charged and attacked the Indian troops with iron rods and wooden staves wrapped in barbed wire. This pre meditated and dastardly attack, had to be with the connivance of its apex leadership, and added to the treacherous ignominy of the incident.
Instead of being apologetic for this deplorable event, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 19 June, in its official release, laid claim to the complete the Galwan valley.
It was only in the 1990s, that the ground positions in Ladakh, was recognized as the LAC. It was also decided between the two leaders to commence border talks, to resolve the differences in perceptions of the international border between the two countries. It would be pertinent to highlight that the Indian territory claimed by China in Aksai Chin and eastern Ladakh has been occupied by it under its ‘creep forward’ policy, between 1959 and September 1962. It also retained additional territory post the conflict. It is manifestation of the same strategy that is being witnessed once again at the Galwan valley.
It established a PLA base, approximately 40 km east of the current incident site of ‘Patrolling Point 14’, in 2016. This was followed up by construction of a dirt track, along the river bed, moving westwards. And from the aerial pictures being screened by media to the public, it is evident the construction of the track is continuing westwards, moving closer the present incident site. These telltale signs of development, will be then used by the Chinese to bolster their claims on the region. India has been witness to these tactics, since independence. The world has experienced the same, with the enlarging footprint and control of China, in the South China Sea. It needs to be highlighted that there are no supporting historical or legal documents, supporting the Chinese claims in the Ladakh region.
The seeds of the current crisis were sown in 1950-51, when China annexed Tibet. Events in the aftermath of the ‘long march’ and ascension of Mao Tse Tung as the undisputed leader of present China, was for consolidation of its unstable frontiers.
This manifested in the annexation of Tibet and consolidation of Inner Mangolia, with whom it had historically been in conflict. The 1930 War between Tibet and China, bears testimony to the ever present expansionist tendencies. The surreptitious construction of the road through the Indian Aksai Chin in 1957, to connect its northern province of Xinjiang, was furtherance of the same ambitions. This highway today is known as G219 and about 179 km of this road passes through the Indian territory of Aksai Chin.
The Tibet uprising of 1959 and India giving asylum to the Dalai Lama in early half of the same year, saw an increase in the incidents of land grabbing and hostilities. It ambushed and captured Indian police patrols, deployed in these remote areas. It has to be appreciated that India had just become independent and its northern borders were rugged, inhospitable, at dizzying altitudes of 14000 to 17000 feet, with extremes of temperatures and wind speed, poor connectivity and near negligible infrastructure. Most of the posts were air maintained or by long range patrols from the road heads, far in depth from the posts.
The India-China border talks did commence finally in 1995 after the signing of the ‘Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility’ along the LAC, in 1993. This agreement provided the framework for border security between the two countries, until final determination is made regarding border demarcation. It also subsequently led to ‘Confidence Building Measures’ and provision of advanced intimation of troop movements in the vicinity of the LAC. The Joint Working Group set up for border resolution, divided the approximate 4000 km of India – China Border, into three sectors –western (Ladakh), middle and eastern sector. Up to 2002, only maps of the middle sector were exchanged and acceptance of the MacMohan line of the British, partially addressed the delimitation of the border for the eastern sector. No formal progress was made for the northern sub sector, till the abrogation of the talks. The Chinese have thereafter continuously refused to restart the border talks.
This Galwan valley has not been disputed and incident free, since the Indo China War of 1962. This preposterous claim, now on the valley, needs to be refuted on the basis of documented proof. Details of bilateral discussions, exchange of letters between the leaders of the two countries and examination of ground positions of PLA troops in this region during that period, will provide the necessary rationale. There are a plethora of claim lines of china, that were communicated soon after the annexation of Tibet and then before and after the 1962 Indo China conflict. Record of these exists on Maps published in 1963, by the Publications Divisions of Government of India.
The changing ‘claim lines’ of China, during the intervening period 1956 to 1962, are reflective of his territorial ambitions on Indian territory.
Map 2 from open source, does a deep dive and captures the truth of actual territorial control of the region from 1857 till the 1960s.
Map 3, published by the Publications division of the Government of India in 1963 has three separate ‘claim lines’. It also shows the points upto which the Indian police patrols went from time to time till 1958, for routine administrative functions. They are ‘star marked’ on the same map. These points from north to south on the map are haji langar, qaratagh pass, lasak la (on the current road alignment of G 219), hot spring, chushul, demchok and tashi gong.This reveals the exaggerated nature of territory claimed by China in 1956.
The ‘claim lines’ are based on official correspondence between the Governments and Prime Ministers of India and China, after the 1962 Indo - China Conflict. The first line indicates the disposition of Chinese posts in Ladakh in Nov 1959, the second shows Chinese dispositions on 07 Sep 1962 (day of Chinese offensive in Eastern sector) and the third line is the area captured during the conflict in this sector (20 Oct to 21 Nov 1962 ). The area between line 1 and 2 is indicative of the area illegally occupied by China in the intervening period of 3 years, when Indian presence was near negligible. The points up to which the Indian police patrols went from time to time till 1958, for routine administrative are ‘star marked’ on Map 5. These points from north to south on the map are Haji Langar, Qaratagh Pass, Lasak la (on the
current road alignment of G 219), point east of the highway, Hot Spring, Chushul, Demchok and Tashi Gong. They reveal the exaggerated nature of the 1956 China ‘claim line’, based on which the 1959 line was shared by the Chinese Prime Minister with India and subsequently the 1960 claim line that was only in a discussion.
It is highlighted that the post of ‘Sanzungling’, on the western extremity of the Galwan river / valley, was an Indian occupied post at the commencement of the conflict. Also the confluence of Shyok River and the Galwan nadi, was well east of the area captured at the end of conflict in 1962. It is also pertinent to bring out that China on declaration of unilateral ceasefire, agreed to withdraw 20 kms east of the line of offensive, as marked on Map 4. Even though this line on the map is west of the Indian post of ‘Sanzungling’ that was overrun after a bitter battle on 20/ 21 Oct 1962, on ground, it was east of the post.
It also substantiates and clearly establishes that the Galwan valley, post conflict, was with India. The claims of China are therefore totally false and a cover up for their expansionist design.
MAP 3- Chinese Claim Lines of 1959 and 1962 -¬‐ Pre and Post Conflict in Ladakh
(Source-‐ Publication division, Govtof India; revised edition January 1963)
MAP 4- Chinese Advances Before & After 08 Sep 1962 & Area China Offered to Demilitarize Post Conflict in Ladakh
(Source-‐ Publication division, Govt of India; revised edition January 1963)
MAP 5- Chinese Claim Lines of 1959 and 1960 and Points of Indian Patrols till 1958 in Ladakh
(Source-‐ Publication division, Govt of India; revised edition January 1963)
It is of importance that China first put forward its territorial claims, in a letter by the Chinese premier in 1959. It enclosed a not to scale sketch that is referred as the 1959 claim line. This was premised on the maps that china had published, in 1956. He affirmed the claims again in December 1959. Since then there have been numerous claim lines. Of importance is the 1960 ‘claim line’ that was advanced further east of the 1959 line, by Chinese officials during inter government talks. It was aligned to dominate the Shyok river. It is of interest to note, that China never reached this line even during the conflict of 1962. Therefore it gets discounted in any serious debate on the claim lines.
In context of the Galwan valley, dispute has arisen for the first time since 1962, and that too when the LAC is clearly defined and accepted by both India and China. There is, therefore, a need for unanimity, in thwarting the hegemonistic intentions of the Dragon.
(Lt Gen Arun Sahni is a retired Army Commander and erstwhile GOC 3 Corps responsible for China border in Arunachal Pradesh. Views expressed in this article are his personal)