As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the 1962 Sino-Indian War, the current border crisis in Ladakh has been raging for over two years. Over sixty thousand soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army and an equivalent number from the Indian side are deployed against each other. Last week marked the second anniversary of the deadly clash in the Galwan Valley, on 15 and 16 June 2020, in which 20 Indian soldiers and at least four PLA soldiers died. Scores of Indian soldiers were badly injured, with around seventy of them being taken captive by the PLA—some soldiers spent three days in Chinese custody.
Ten rounds of diplomatic talks and 15 rounds of military talks have led to limited disengagement in a few areas but created a new status quo. India remains incapable of reversing the Chinese incursion into Ladakh and is content to hold the line and prevent further loss of control over territory. The Narendra Modi government no longer asserts that its goal is to restore the situation in Ladakh as of April 2020. At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, organised in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said that the Chinese government had continued to “harden its position” on the Indian border. Three days earlier, General Charles Flynn, who heads the US Army’s Pacific command, had noted, during a visit to India, that Chinese activity in the region was “eye-opening.” Flynn described the PLA’s new infrastructure near the border as “alarming.” Even though it is not comparable to the 1962 conflict, there is little doubt that this is the biggest military crisis India has faced since the 1999 Kargil War.
At the Shangri-La Dialogue, the Chinese defence minister, General Wei Fenghe, argued that the responsibility for the border conflict does not lie with China. Wei claimed that he had communicated this position to his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh. The Indian representative at the forum, Vice-Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta, who heads the Eastern Naval Command, did not push back against this assertion. While responding to a question about maritime security, he remarked that the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, for anti-piracy operations near the Gulf of Aden, does not pose a major challenge to the Indian Navy.