This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Recent tensions between India and China along the unmarked border in India’s northeastern region of Ladakh demonstrate Beijing’s continued intention to annex disputed areas and expand its influence in South Asia, the head of Tibet’s India-based exile government said this week.
Thousands of troops from the nuclear-armed neighbors have faced off since May near Ladakh’s Pangong Lake, with Chinese troops rushing artillery and combat vehicles into the area after India was seen building a road nearby, according to Indian media reports.
Both sides have now pulled back ahead of a new round of talks aimed at reducing tensions, Indian government sources said on Tuesday, with China’s foreign ministry saying on Wednesday that discussions between commanders in the two armies have already moved the issue toward a peaceful resolution.
Indian media reported that Chinese and Indian armies have shifted forces back from three flash points high in eastern Ladakh, a part of India with a large Tibetan Buddhist population.
The current face-off in Ladakh is only the latest in a series of flare-ups along China’s and India’s 2,200-mile-long undemarcated border, or Line of Actual Control, with Indian soldiers using their fists to block an attempt by Chinese troops on May 9 to cross into Indian territory at the Nakula pass in northern Sikkim.
Meanwhile, in June 2017, India sent hundreds of troops into Bhutan to defend its ally against efforts by China to build a road southward into Doklam, an area claimed by both China and Bhutan. The stand-off continued for over two months and ended when both sides withdrew.
Watching China’s repeated probes of Indian territory and defenses, India and the international community should remember the experience of Tibet, which was invaded by China in 1950 and finally taken over by force, Lobsang Sangay—president of Tibet’s India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration—said in interviews this week.
Promises by China of withdrawal from contested areas are often temporary and must be continually verified, Sangay said, speaking to Arnab Goswami of India’s Republic TV.
“It is quite difficult to trust the Chinese regime. They say something and then do exactly the opposite,” Sangay said, adding, “They came [to Tibet] in the name of peace and prosperity for the Tibetan people, but ultimately the Chinese took away our country and independence, and we were driven into exile.”
“India and the world should learn from Tibet’s experience with China,” Sangay said.
‘Tibet has been militarized’
“When the Chinese government said they would build a road connecting China to Tibet, they promised us prosperity and stability,” Sangay said, speaking in an interview on Tuesday with Rahul Kanwal of India Today.
“But that road was used to bring trucks of guns and tanks to occupy Tibet, and since that time that one road has become a hundred roads reaching all over the Tibetan plateau [right up to] the borders of India.”
Six military airfields have now been built near Ladakh and the disputed northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and military-grade rail lines now connect Tibet’s Shigatse prefecture with the borders of Nepal, Sangay said.
“So the whole Tibetan plateau has been militarized,” he said.
Until Tibet’s status as a genuinely free and autonomous region is resolved, there will be even more border incursions by China into Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal Pradesh, Sangay said.
“Until the border changes from India-China back to India-Tibet, all of this will continue,” Sangay said. “The Indian government should say that for the security of India, Tibet needs to be free.”
Origin of the problem
“The establishment of Chinese control over Tibet is the origin of the problem,” agreed Manoj Joshi, a defense analyst at India’s Observer Reserve Foundation, speaking to RFA in an interview in May.
Recalling a war fought on the border between India and China in 1962 in which hundreds were killed or wounded on both sides, Joshi said, “The Chinese have it much easier now that they have built roads and railways into Tibet.”
“They can bring large numbers of troops up to the border now in a very short time,” he said.
The installation by China of 5G wireless telecommunications equipment on Mount Everest, bordering Nepal, has meanwhile strengthened China’s ability to monitor and disrupt military communications in neighboring states, said S.N. Ravichandran—joint secretary of the Cyber Society of India—also speaking to RFA.
“Not only India but other countries should be wary as well,” Ravichandran said.
“What happens if military units in Sikkim and Ladakh are disrupted, and that’s where the concentrations [of forces] are building up?,” he asked.
“This is of great strategic importance, and yes, India is aware of it. I think that the Indian military is aware of it and is taking measures,” he said.