India-China conflict and its impact on Bangladesh

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Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed

Tensions between China and India, the two nuclear-armed neighbours, are at an all-time high at this moment. Both countries have been allegedly engaged in violent acts and fighting along the Sino-Indian border near Pangong Lake in Ladakh and Tibet Autonomous Region and along the Sikkim border. First, in the last 45 years, the conflict between the neighbours has intensified to such an extent resulting in a growing concern across the world.

Reportedly, on 15 June, at least 20 Indian soldiers including a high-ranking officer were killed with nail studded batons, rocks, and rods covered in the barbed wire without a single bullet being fired, in a faceoff with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh.

Indian and Chinese troops clashed 4,267 m above sea level in the contested Valley along what is referred to as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the disputed Himalayan border. Reports on Chinese casualties are not known, but the Indian media claimed at least 40 deaths, which were later dismissed as false news by the Chinese authorities.

However, as per the 1996 agreement to prevent large-scale escalations in contested zones, both sides were not supposed to carry weapons and explosives. India and China have had some simmering border disputes that both sides were able to manage for over 40 years. So here the question arises, what exactly led to this deadly slugfest?

It all started by a row over two tents and observation towers being built by China that India claims were on its side of the LAC. Despite a recent agreement against it, the Indian officials claimed that, these structures that its troops had dismantled when they encountered Chinese forces and before a brawl ensured.

But, according to the Chinese officials, When the situation in the Galwan Valley had been easing the Indian side once deliberately provoked and violently attached the Chinese soldiers who were there to negotiate with them. Thus, it triggered fierce physical clashes causing causalities.

After the standoff, Indian government decided to send 12,000 workers to help complete the railway’s work and infrastructure at the Galwan Valley Region.

On the other side, the Chinese have also developed their infrastructure in these disputed border regions. Meanwhile, The Ministry of Defense has agreed to increase its intensity along the Indo-China Control Line as China continues to develop along the LAC, ignoring bilateral agreements.

Moreover, China seems to have built new infrastructure near the site of a deadly border battle with India in the western Himalayas, fresh satellite photographs reveal, heightening fears over more flare-ups between the neighbors.

A few days back Indian and Chinese military leaders decided to step back from a week-old standoff at several places along their contested frontier following the confrontation taken place on June 15.

Scuffles between Indian and Chinese troops also broke out in May at Pangong Tso in the same region that observes say were triggered over Indian construction of roads and airstrips in Ladakh. One of these roads is near Galwan Valley a remote and inhospitable area considered strategic as it leads to disputed Aksai Chin which is claimed by India but administrated by China.

The Western Theater Command of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) said that the sovereignty over the Galwan Valley area has always belonged to China, but for India, Galwan is a resolved issue which never featured in the list of 23 contested areas identified by the Indian government since it’s first accepted the LAC in 1993.

At the end of May Chinese forces objected to the Indian road and construction in the Galwan River Valley. The Global Times blamed India for the stand-offs and they claimed that India had illegally constructed defense facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley Region.

On the other side, anti-China sentiments are on the rise in Indian as Peoples’ movement to boycott everything made in China is taking shape across the country. India’s nationalist media outlets and traders are calling for a nationwide boycott against Chinese products and a halt in bilateral trade.

The traders of the country have decided to boycott Chinese imports and cut down imports until the end of 2021. Although, experts warn that initiating a trade war or any such move will end up hurting the Indian economy more as Beijing is New Delhi’s second-biggest trade partner with annual bilateral trade worth 92 billion USD and a trade deficit of 53.57 billion USD in China’s  favour.

Despite the scale of trade, the two-armed nuclear neighbours have a long history of territorial conflicts along their common and undefined borders. Each side claims large swaths of land held by the other with differences rooted in demarcation left from the British colonial period.

In 1962, a war broke out between China and India, in which the Chinese withdrew after four weeks of fighting Chinese withdrew from Arunachal Pradesh but held on to a territory in disputed Kashmir called Aksai Chin.

Experts believe that the recent face-off reflects Beijing’s increasing willingness to assert its sovereignty in the region and as a result India’s Unilateral moves in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir with renewed tensions between them. This could result in India reaching out to China’s rivals like the US, Japan, and Australia to raise China’s balance.

According to the experts from a geopolitical viewpoint, China would want to drive a wedge between India and the US to a counterbalance alliance, or even some form of one.

There is a possibility that the dispute would drive India closer to the US quickly, which China will probably not appreciate. We have to wait and see what could be next in India China Face off with both sides accusing each other of transgressions!

Not only the Chinese are fast in developing infrastructure but they also have the biggest army in the world in terms of weapons and artilleries. Another thing in the Chinese bag is his friendship with the nations that surround India, such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. All these countries are good friends of China while Bangladesh is the only trustable alliance that India has at the moment.

Conflict and its impact on Bangladesh

Both India and China would like to have Bangladesh by their side and there are several reasons for it. Bangladesh has been a good friend of India for the longest time and currently, the relationship of India with its other neighbouring countries including Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan is substandard.

The Pakistan -India relationship has always been unpleasant since the emergence of the two countries. Soon after this 15 June incident, Nepal has demanded land from India which reportedly does not belong to them.

Moreover, just a week back Bhutan has stopped water flow from their country to India which during this hot weather has made life difficult for the Indian farmers. All this imply towards shambled relation of India with its respective neighbours.

It has been said in an article published in the East Asia Forum that two countries aim to use trade to leverage Bangladesh as a favourable place for trade. Throughout their writings, they provided a comparative picture of trade between the two countries. Meanwhile, just after the border Incident, China has declared duty free entry to many Bangladeshi made goods to China while a large portion of trade happens for Bangladesh with India.

From July, 97 percent of the exported products will benefit from adding 5,161 more Bangladeshi products to the list of 3,095 existing products on the Chinese duty-free market. This tariff exemption is expected to assist Bangladesh minimise the economic impact of the Covid-19.

Also, the entry of Bangladeshi products into the market in China will make the market more competitive and improving trade ties between the two neighbours. China has a 17-billion-dollar market in Bangladesh, in comparison to this Bangladesh export only 75 million-dollar goods.

Further, China has given plenty of financial assistance to Bangladesh in the upgrading of infrastructure including the Padma bridge project and has promised more financial assistance in the future.

On the other hand, India is still to make any move after the incident. India exports 8 billion dollars of goods but in comparison, it takes 26 million worth of goods from us. India also gives financial assistance to Bangladesh which is about 15 crore dollars a year.

Yet, one of the things which Bangladesh has been talking for a long time is to give them their portion of the water from Tista River, something the Indian government denied over the years. On the other hand, India ‘s development of a coal-fired power plant near Bangladesh’s Sundarbans has encountered a variety of realistic and environmental challenges.

Additionally, the border killings of civilians in Bangladesh and the recent citizenship act targeted against the Muslims in India were not well received in a country with a majority Muslim population.

Nevertheless, for economic, political, cultural, and religious reasons, Bangladesh ‘s relationship with India is deemed more significant. Both India and China are offering enormous assistance in the infrastructure sector in Bangladesh. Both countries are interested in large-scale railway projects in Bangladesh and interested in establishing a deep-sea port that is slowly progressing.

On the other side, neither China nor India has invested heavily in Bangladesh’s manufacturing and energy sectors. But China has been a major supplier to the Bangladesh Military for a long time whereas India is still lagging in this regard. Therefore, with its funding and investments, China has dominated the development scene in Bangladesh more rapidly than any other country including India.

Both India and China will do their best to make use of Bangladesh’s weakness in trying to influence the country. The trade policy of the two countries can play the most effective role in this regard.

For instance, if both countries impose trade barriers on each other and in that case both Indian and Chinese customers or investors will look for a substitute market.

Bangladesh being closest to both the countries may become a suitable destination for trade or investment. For this situation, however, China is in a favourable position as their economy is larger than India and are ahead in the trade as well.

So, if China ever opens its market for Bangladesh’s export, China will probably have an upper hand over India.

Nonetheless, there shall be no rivalry of this kind between India and China with Bangladesh. It is even better for us if two countries can maintain close ties with Bangladesh without considering each other as contenders.

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is an Advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court