SOURCE: INDIA TODAY
Below is the interview with P. Stobdan on the India-China border standoff:
Q. Why have the Chinese come in the numbers that they have?
Many reasons have been attributed to the Chinese intrusions into eastern Ladakh since early May. Among them, one could be India’s administrative consolidation of its far territories after the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir. As long as Ladakh was a part of J&K, China wasn’t a major factor and its stance remained muted. But post the events of August 5, 2019, the Chinese have been making belligerent noises, almost trying to convey that they have a stake in Ladakh.
The government has of course clarified that our LAC with China will not change, but to me it looks like they suspect India’s narrative would change from the LAC dispute to making a new assertion on the 37,000 sq. km Aksai Chin plateau now under their illegal occupation. We have changed the entire discourse on the PoK region beyond the LoC with Pakistan and have reaffirmed legal claims on the entire Gilgit-Baltistan area (now part of Ladakh province). Now our map shows UT Ladakh with a 106 km land border directly with Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province. This may have hastened Pakistani and Chinese thinking.
Q. But incursions have been there in the past too
The present incursion is not a small one. But as I said, the Chinese may have suspected we have bigger geo-strategic plans. The issue of creating UT Ladakh was raised in the United Nations Security Council on August 16 last year by foreign minister Wang Yi when he was backing the Pakistani position on J&K. So the fact on the ground is that we may have overlooked these issues but the Chinese have registered a protest. The issue featured in the Pakistan-China joint statement last August too. So, the Chinese may want to forestall India’s move. On the ground, they are trying to push us from the Galwan Valley towards the Shyok valley. The Chinese could also fear that its regional connectivity projects in South Asia like CPEC through Pakistan and BRI through Nepal, with lots of investments at stake, may be affected. India has been active in constructing roads in Ladakh and in the Uttarakhand region bordering China.
Q. What is the significance of the Galwan Valley?
Ladakh is a lakshman rekha for us–we cannot afford to allow the Chinese in here. Aksai Chin is an extension of the dry Tarim Basin and is not part of the Himalayas. Now they are coming into a water-rich area with three rivers–the Shyok, Galwan and Chang-Chenmo. This is a hugely strategic move. On the map, it looks very complicated but they have a strategy, design and focus on the big picture.
Right now, all their connectivity is north of the Karakoram Valley. They are, for instance, building a new airport in Tashkurgan, north of the Siachen glacier. The mantra of the LAC has been chanted for so many years that we react only to Gilgit-Baltistan and not Aksai Chin. Why has the narrative of Aksai Chin not been kept alive? Right now, the Chinese show it as part of Xinjiang. Our intent to enhance connectivity projects in Ladakh should also have a forward objective to push for trade beyond the Karakoram pass into the Mazar Valley of Xinjiang province and revive the old Leh-Kashgar Silk Road. Through Lepulekh, we should be trying for a reopening of our traditional pilgrimage and border trade routes with Tibet.
Q. Why is this happening now?
If the reorganisation of J&K has given the Chinese a strategic opportunity to make Ladakh a Trojan horse, I’m quite confident we can also respond by reaching out to the world beyond Ladakh’s borders.