The Ladakh Clash: China’s India Dilemma

Between tactical gains on the disputed border and the strategic loss of alienating India, China’s choice on Ladakh comes with significant baggage
Part of the Chinese Foreign Policy Project
By Yun Sun

This article was originally published in Global Asia.

More than 100 days have passed since China and India began engaging in a military standoff and sustained tensions along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. Violent physical clashes broke out on the evening of June 15, leading to 20 Indian fatalities, the first deaths over the disputed border since 1975, and an unconfirmed number of Chinese casualties. The two governments and militaries have been engaged in prolonged negotiations over a mutually acceptable resolution, and most observers do not expect a military conflict out of this round. However, given rapidly shifting global power dynamics, the new “Cold War” emerging between the United States and China, as well as the growing challenges Beijing faces in its external environment, China’s dilemma on India has only become exacerbated.

Strategic Factors Behind the Border Standoff

The border disputes between China and India have gone on for seven decades and can be traced back even long before the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Both sides have garnered significant historical and legal evidence to support their sovereignty claims. The most important concept in regards to conflict prevention is the LAC. In the absence of a formally demarcated boundary, the LAC is supposed to act as a de facto border and keep troops from the two sides from direct engagement. However, in reality, the essential problem is that there is no consensus between China and India over a mutually accepted LAC.

Historically, the Chinese have consistently stuck to the LAC of Nov. 7, 1959, while the Indians stick to the LAC of Sept. 8, 1962. China argues that the territory between these two lines was “unjustly occupied by India” during those three years and was precisely the cause of the 1962 Sino-Indian War.1 The Chinese were victorious then, and they believe that the result restored the LAC of Nov. 7, 1959 — a verdict with which India never agreed. To date, both sides insist that they have been operating within their side of the LAC in accordance with these competing definitions.

Read the full article in Global Asia.

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