With the world obsessing over every increasingly childish outburst in the daily back and forth between Trump and Kim Jong-Un, another conflict which has so far gone largely unnoticed by the global media continues to grow on the border between India and China.
As reported yesterday, in the most recent escalation between the two nuclear powers, the Indian Army ordered the evacuation of a village close to the Doklam India-Bhutan-China tri-junction amid to a standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers. This takes place just days after China turned the war threat amplifier up to ’11’ by threatening India (in an article published a Chinese state-controlled newspaper) that it could conduct a “small-scale military operation” to expel Indian troops from a contested region in the Himalayas.
For those who need a reminder, the latest geopolitical standoff between India and China started in June, after Chinese troops started building a road on a remote plateau which is disputed by China and Bhutan. Indian troops countered by moving to the flashpoint zone to halt the work, with China accusing them of violating its territorial sovereignty and calling for their immediate withdrawal.
After adding a large number of troops to the region, China then sharply escalated when a Chinese Ministry of Defense warned explicitly that Indian troops must leave the contested area if they do not want war.
Then, earlier this week, tensions escalated further when as the Independent reported, the Chinese state-owned Global Times quoted a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences who said China is preparing to initiate a “limited war” to push Indian soldiers out of the area.
To this, the Indian response was the abovementioned forced evacuation of a few hundred villagers living in Nathang, who were asked to vacate their houses immediately, according to News18. Nathang is 35 km from the site of the two-month old standoff.
Which brings us to today, and the latest report by PTI India, according to which in a strategically key move, India has poured in more troops along the entire stretch of its border with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the face of heightened rhetoric by Beijing over the Dokalam standoff, according to senior government officials on Friday.
Furthermore, the “caution level” among the troops has also been raised, the officials told PTI.
The Indian officials said that the decision to increase the deployment along the nearly 1,400-km Sino-India border from Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh was taken after carrying out a detailed analysis of the situation and considering China’s aggressive posturing against India on Dokalam.
“The troop level along the border with China in the Sikkim and Arunachal sectors has been increased,” said the officials on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information. The Army’s Sukna-based 33 Corps as well as 3 and 4 corps based in Arunachal and Assam are tasked to protect the sensitive Sino-India border in the eastern theatre.
However, the officials declined to give any figure or percentage of increased deployment, saying they cannot disclose “operational details.”
According to defence experts, roughly 45,000 troops including personnel having completed the weather acclimatisation process are normally kept ready along the border at any given time, but not all are necessarily deployed. The soldiers, deployed over 9,000 feet, have to go through a 14-day-long acclimatisation process.
The officials, however, said there is no enhancement of troops at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction in Dokalam where around 350 army personnel are holding on to their position for nearly eight weeks after stopping Chinese troops from constructing a road on June 16.
Bhutan and China have competing claims over Dokalam, and are negotiating a resolution. Meanwhile, China has been ramping up bellicose rhetoric against India over the last few week – in many aspect echoing either side in the US-North Korea conflict – demanding immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from Dokalam. Both the Chinese and Indian state medias have carried a barrage of critical articles on the Dokalam stand-off slamming India.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently said both sides should first pull back their troops for any talks to take place, and favoured a peaceful resolution of the border standoff. India also conveyed to the Chinese government that the road construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for it.
So far, not only has neither side pulled back troops, but as today’s latest news of increasing deployment suggests, a full blown conflict, one whose consequences could be far more devastating than a US military intervention in North Korea, looks increasingly likely with every passing day.