China-India-Nepal Will the border disputes lead to a changed Asia -M. Mohiuddin Mortuza

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As the world can remember, 1975 is the last time when a bloody skirmish took place in Indo China Border when 4 Indian soldiers were dead by the Chinese gunfire in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. After 45 years almost, the South and South East Asia have seen bloodshed again and this time its toll is higher than any other border incidents since Indo China war in 1962. Initially many experts are describing a narrow view by pointing to the disputed border issues and India’s making of military level structures close to the LAC (Line of Actual Control). Consequently the bloodshed took place in Galwan valley. Besides the nationalist uprising in Nepal against India’s recent actions over Nepal’s sovereignty may be discussed as an outcome which would be considered as a mistake if the issue is kept aside considering its trivial or disjunction. The table of South Asia has been heated up over these issues. To have understanding of the reasons behind the Nepal’s uprising and the brawl between the two mostly populated nuclear neighbors , which is the outcome of a series of events originated from decades ago, interlinks need to be understood.
Observers of India and Nepal’s foreign policies are aware of the neighbor’s border disputes. India and Nepal share a 1,800km (1,118-mile) open border. In 1816, Nepal surrendered some part of its western border, by the Treaty of Sugauli, to the East India Company when Nepalese army embraced defeat in a series of battle from 1814 to 1816. In an interview given to Al Jazeera Mr. Lok Raj Baral, former Nepali diplomat, unraveled that according to the Treaty of Sugauli, Kali River was agreed as the demarcation line for the boundary between India and Nepal.

“But there are two theories on the origins of Kali river, which created the scope for different interpretations by the two neighbors”, he mentioned. “Kathmandu claims the river originating in Limpiyadhura as the western border, but New Delhi asserts that the river, which acts as the boundary, emerged from Lipulekh. Nepal says the river that India considers as the border is a tributary of the main river mentioned in the 1816 treaty” he added in conclusion.

Due to the vagueness of the border demarcation of Lipulekh Pass, a strategic three-way junction among Nepal, India, Tibet and China; this issue has been marked as “Status quo” since the Indian independence. Nepal protested against India’s inauguration of the Himalayan link road built in the disputed territory. While the “Status quo” required diplomatic dialogues between the two countries to solve, India unilaterally took the step of including the mentioned areas in their new political map on November 2, 2019 while representing the political status of the newly formed states of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh splitting the Indian occupied Kashmir.

Indian government perhaps weighed the possible outcomes of such unilateral action, but it came out as a miscalculation. Overconfident assessments by Delhi’s defense, security and diplomatic establishments thought to be able to “manage” Nepalese counterpart and was then caught by surprise by the gravity of the anti-India uproar in Kathmandu.

Nepal, in response, published a new map including the Lipulekh Pass, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as its sovereign part on May 20, 2020 and in less than a month the lower house of Nepal’s Parliament unanimously passed the Constitution Amendment Bill guaranteeing legal status for the updated political map. Nepal’s uproar in the face of the bullying by its much larger neighbor, to which it is mainly dependent due to the landlocked border, is whether just an act of spontaneous reply or arisen by the indirect influence of Nepal’s another border sharing partner China is the question that has been put forward.
“There has never been any problem in the past. There is reason to believe that they might have raised the issues at the behest of someone else” Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane most probably pointed finger to China quoting this. While many of the experts both in India and outside of India draw the same conclusion some differ with this. India has set military establishment in Lipulekh Pass during 1962 war and Nepal hadn’t exhibit such rage on this issue till date.
But, in defense of Nepal’s spontaneity it is argued that Nepal has been dealing with the Maoist guerrillas for decades and even after the abolishment of the monarchist system in 2008, the replaced establishment was too engaged in managing its internal administration to bring forward the disputed issue.
Before solving the question of Nepalese upheaval, India has discovered itself engaged in the north-western front confronting China. The series of incidents started to come into daylight when China protested and moved its personnel to Galwan valley in response of India’s military class road construction across the LAC. Its strategic importance is that it connects Ladakh’s capital city Leh via the villages of Darbuk, Shyok with the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) post virtually at the base of the Karakoram Pass that separates China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region from Ladakh. The 255 km long Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) highway provides the Indian military access to the section of the Tibet-Xinjiang highway that passes through Aksai Chin. The road runs almost parallel to the LAC at Aksai Chin, the southern border of Xinjiang province. Indian authority has revived an Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG) for the Air force at DBO and China considers the actions as threats for both its autonomous Aksai China region situated at the east of DBO as well as for part of Karakoram highway in Pakistani part of Kashmir which poses a vital role for China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). More of all, after stripping off the IOK from its autonomous right, India’s home minister Amit Shah in parliament during the discussion on article 370 said that “Aksai China” in Ladkah is a part of India and raising the argument that China is occupying it seems to have provoked the Chinese leadership.

Some other reasons also come in front while discussing China’s intention to force India to sit in the table. India’s vicinity with the USA in recent years has given the Chinese establishment an impression that India and the US may be in closed tie to have better impact in the Indo Pacific region. Recent trade war between China and the USA has driven the trump administration to search for the counterpart to deescalate the Chinese influence in the region. India recently joined the US-led security bloc Quad which also has fuelled China’s doubt about India being a pawn of the USA in the Indo Pacific. Another reason may be China’s tension over withdrawal of western investments from China due to the corona virus issue and India becoming one of the possible alternatives for the investors. A conflict in the region will constrain the investors to give a second thought on shifting their capital from a larger economy to an unstable one. A full scale war between the two nuclear neighbors is next to implausible. Neither of the countries will bid where there is a possibility of the worst outcome.

India is highly dependent on China for its internal demand for engineering goods followed by electronics. Moreover, raw materials for sectors such as pharmaceuticals and automobiles are mostly relied on China. China accounted for 11.8% of India’s total imports as of February. However, in India’s total exports, its share was a mere 3%. The trade deficit with china stood at 3.3 billion in February only before lock down which shows a 13% rise from the year ago period. India’s economy is facing a shock due to the lock down and corona virus as the world is facing too while the Chinese economy has started to run again. Boycotting the Chinese products will lead India to grievance within months. Besides, China’s annual military budget is around 260 billion while the India’s is around one fourth of the China’s. Confronting Nepal, China in two different sectors and keeping an eye to western sector for Pakistan, Indian administration is not in the state to exhibit its aggressive reply which its ultra nationalist far right Hindu supporters are demanding to show.

In case of China, the country is landlocked at its west and southern west border where stability is required for its economic stable growth and more scope of business with the part of the continent. Besides, a market of India with almost 12% of world population (in other words, buyers), China will be barely interested to lose its grab from it. The expeditious steps may ended up on a table of bilateral dialogue where perhaps will have better weight on the scale of the party having comparative advantage in the field.

The writer is a postgraduate student of University of Dhaka