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SOURCE: INDIA TODAY

India’s challenges in 2020 included not just the pandemic but also a national security threat on the borders in eastern Ladakh. A series of incursions by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been the biggest attempt to forcibly alter the 1,597 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) since the 1962 border war.

PLA troops stepped forward to claim territory on the Depsang Plains and at three other spots, including the shores of the picturesque boomerang-shaped Pangong lake. The incursions led to a violent skirmish in the Galwan Valley on June 15 in which 20 Indian soldiers, including the commanding officer Col. Santosh Babu, were killed.

An unknown number of PLA soldiers were also killed in the melee, the largest clash between the two sides since the 1967 Nathu La and Cho La skirmishes in Sikkim. A countermove in late August saw Indian Army special forces, including ethnic Tibetan fighters, occupying strategic heights south of the lake, overlooking Chinese positions. Nearly eight months later, the two armies are locked in a standoff, with close to 100,000 soldiers from both sides deployed at extreme altitudes of over 12,000 feet. At some locations, such as Rechin La which army chief General M.M. Naravane visited during a recent tour of the frontlines, troops and tanks on either side are just a few hundred metres apart.

What has beguiled New Delhi is that despite India sitting out of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative and protesting the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), relations between the two countries were better than they had been in years, seemingly helped by personal summits between President Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The second summit, at Mamallapuram, was in fact held just seven months before the May incursions. One key government official believes Beijing’s belligerence was as much about safeguarding Chinese interests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as it was about showing New Delhi that China is Asia’s preeminent power. India has indicated it will accept nothing less than a restoration of the ground situation as it existed on April 2020. It has hit back with a series of economic measures aimed at restricting Beijing’s access to Indian markets-from smartphone apps to Chinese telecommunication equipment. Foreign minister S. Jaishankar has called relations between India and China “significantly damaged” and said the only way they can improve is if China pulls back its troops. Even as both sides hunker down through a brutal winter, the next year will see who blinks first.

Keynotes
Chinese PLA makes incursions across Indian borders in Ladakh
May incursions happen seven months after Xi-Modi summit
Galwan Valley clash leaves 20 Indian soldiers dead, unknown PLA casualties in June