India & China have been fighting for Galwan valley, a piece of land for almost 40 years now. Why is Galwan Valley So Important?
Two soldiers and a dead officer have been enough to shake half humanity. Are China and India, the two most populous nations on the planet, possessing nuclear weapons, heading towards war? The most likely answer is "no," but the small fights over the past few weeks in the confines of the Himalayas reignite a burning conflict for half a century.
Let's analyze Six Historical Facts about India, China & the Galwan Valley.
Indian and Chinese soldiers have engaged in violent combat in the depths of the Galwan Valley, one of the many border dispute points between the two nations. No bullets were fired from either side, but sharp stones were thrown, and the physical confrontation was reached. Three members of the Indian armed forces died. Later reports said that 20 Indian Soldiers lost their lives. Global Times reported 37 to 45 casualties on the Chinese side.
The episode represents the climax of weeks of small battles and disputes, sometimes physical. Much of the fighting has been in the vicinity of Pangong Tso Lake when patrols on either side of the border have entered beyond the border control line. Although familiar, the scenario is broad, and the clashes have co-occurred more than 1,500 kilometers apart.
It is not the first time that China and India collide in the heights of the Himalayas. The disputed region is Ladakh, over which Indian, Chinese and Pakistani claims weigh. Similar battles took place in 2017 and 2013. Of the former, there are graphic testimonies. They are very illustrative of the nature of the crisis: dozens of soldiers battling like a rugby melee on the banks of the Pangong Tso.
No weapons. Only the debate of fists operates, not that of bullets. Neither country wants to jump over the delicate treaties on which the distribution and control of the territory are based.
(In green, the Macartney-MacDonald line, affected by both countries until 1959. In blue, the front line in September 1962. On the left you can see the LAC established by China after the end of the war, above the Pangong Tso and several tens of kilometres in territory controlled by India.)
The remote origin of the problem dates back to the Sino-Indian War of 1962. It was fought in the same rocky and desert mountains on which today at least three soldiers have perished. That conflict resulted in the victory of the Chinese army, imposing what would become known as the "Line of Actual Control" (LAC), an advanced border in the heart of Kashmir, the scene in turn of a long and bitter dispute between India and Pakistan.
The war arose, of course, from the umpteenth geographic mess of the British Empire. The imperial authorities drew two borderlines between the Raj and Tibet, then independent. The first ( Johnson ) was aggressive and extended the limits of the empire far to the north; the second ( Macartney – MacDonald ), more conservative and open to the interests of the Chinese Empire, functioned as a de facto border from the end of the 19th century until the 1960s when the war came.
Actual control vs. claimed
It was then that China imposed its particular vision of geopolitics: the border would go as far as the territories controlled by both countries. After the war, that control would be located several tens of kilometres beyond the Macartney-MacDonald line for Chinese benefit. It is something that India only reluctantly accepted in 1993. Both countries continue to demand different borders formally. And they patrol them thoroughly. This is known as the Line of Actual Control
The Way Ahead
The friction has thus become the inevitable consequence of a diffuse dispute over an abrupt and remote territory. The fighting in recent weeks appears to stem from Indian interest in building a highway to facilitate access to its border side. China would have tried to intimidate, marking territory, and hindering Indian works. A volatile and tense context prone to fighting.
Nothing that both of them were not used to, In 2017, China and India already reoccurred in a very similar episode, although fought thousands of kilometres from Kashmir, near Bhutan. Then the roles were reversed. Indian soldiers blocked the Chinese construction of an unpaved highway over Bhutanese territory, in Doka La, claimed in turn by Beijing. Also over inaccessible mountains.
Pressure. The battles of the last few days are framed in turn by a general strategy of geopolitical "assertiveness" by China. From the seizure of an islet near the Maldives to the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel to the intimidation of Malaysian oil exploration. All his neighbours feel his breath.
Something that may worry India, whose almost entire border with China is in dispute. To the demands on Kashmir or Bhutan, both countries add another one in Arunachal Pradesh, around (surprise) another historical border line drawn by the British. Today led by a nationalist and equally assertive president, Modi, India may feel the need to set foot on the door.