Why does Ladakh have a capital

Border conflict in the HimalayasCold war between India and China

Military convoys of the Indian armed forces on their way to the high mountains of the Himalayas. The personnel carriers torture their way up the serpentines of the pass road that connects the Kashmiri capital Srinagar with Leh in Ladakh, the second highest continuously inhabited city in the world, at an altitude of 3,500 meters.

In the past few months, the number of troops in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police has increased significantly. However, there are no exact figures.

June 2020 saw the worst border incident since 1962

In the barren landscape of the western section of the Himalayas, there have been clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers over the past few months. In mid-June, at least 20 Indian soldiers and, according to unconfirmed reports, some Chinese soldiers were killed in a military incident on the Line of Actual Control, the unofficial border line along the Galwan River. It was the worst border incident between the two nuclear powers since the 1962 war that China had won.

At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in clashes between Chinese and Indian troops in the Ladakh region, Himalaya, in June. (Mukhtar Khan / AP)

Indian Air Force fighter planes fly over the border region. India's Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said the situation was tense. One should be prepared for anything, he said during a session of parliament in Delhi in mid-September:

"The incidents this year were violations by the Chinese armed forces of all agreements. The Chinese side has mobilized troops and weapons on a large scale along the border line and in the hinterland.

In the past such clashes could always be resolved peacefully, but this year it is different. The number of soldiers is greater and the incidents are more frequent. We want a peaceful solution, but our troops are ready for any situation that might arise. "

When the Indian border patrols make their rounds through the barren rocky landscape in the high mountains, they repeatedly come across Chinese soldiers whose maps show a different course of the border line. There were repeated mass brawls because actually - according to the agreement of both sides - the soldiers should be unarmed.

(Imago / Idrees Abbas) Escalation in the dispute between India and China
The border between India and China is controversial in several places. The conflict threatens to escalate further: India is considering countermeasures - despite its dependence on China.

In order to secure supplies for the border troops during the harsh winter in the Himalayas, the main connecting road from Kashmir to the high mountains has been expanded in recent months. Construction workers cut aisles in the barren rocky landscape, as shown on footage from Reuters news agency. Again and again rocks had to be blown away in order to move the road that is to be built up to the unofficial border with Tibet. 30 kilometers were still missing, said chief engineer and officer, B. Kishen.

"Hopefully we will be able to complete the last section in the next three years. This will be the first road in Ladakh that can be driven all year round."

China invested $ 150 billion in Tibet

At the beginning of October, Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially opened a tunnel on the new route, the longest of its kind at an altitude of over 3,000 meters.

"Transport connections and economic development are directly related. Connections of this kind drive progress. And in the border region, connections are the prerequisite for more security."

The government of the People's Republic of China protested against the expansion of the infrastructure on the Indian side. These activities are the cause of the ongoing tensions, said Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry at a press briefing in Beijing:

"China does not recognize the so-called Ladakh territory, which was illegally created by India. And we are also against the infrastructure projects that are being built in the border area with the aim of increasing military control there. According to the agreement between China and India should not complicate the situation on either side in order not to jeopardize attempts to detente. "

Indian border troops soldiers at a road post in the Ladakh region (imago / Waseem Andrabi)

China has also been expanding its infrastructure along the border in the Himalayas for years, with roads and airstrips for airplanes. The Reuters news agency reported that almost $ 150 billion would be invested in Tibet. Among other things, the railway line between the Chinese province of Sichuan and Tibet is to be completed.

India has long neglected the border region in the Himalayas, says Harsh V. Pant, the China expert at the Observer Research Foundation, a political think tank in Delhi. That has changed since the province of Kashmir in northern India was revoked last year and the Ladakh region, which once belonged to Kashmir, was placed under the administration of the Indian central government.

"The infrastructure on the Chinese side of the border is very well developed, which enables rapid troop transport. India has been lagging behind for a long time. A lot has only been made up there in recent years. A road on the Indian side now leads directly to the border line . And that makes China nervous. Because suddenly Indian soldiers appear in places where they were not present a few years ago. "

Lines instead of borders, drawn by colonial rulers in the 19th century

Both sides accuse each other of violating the agreed border. The spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijan, called on India during a press briefing in Beijing to better discipline its soldiers in the future.

"On September 7th, Indian soldiers illegally crossed the border line on the southern bank of Lake Pangong Tso, in the western section. The Indian soldiers openly fired warning shots to threaten the Chinese border troops. Our soldiers had to take countermeasures to deal with the situation We call on India to refrain from such dangerous actions in the future and to withdraw its troops there. The soldiers who shot should be punished to ensure that this does not happen again. "

India, on the other hand, accused China of provocations. Chinese troops tried to use military movements on the south bank of Lake Pangong Tso to change the status quo in the border area, according to a statement by the Indian Ministry of Defense. Indian troops anticipated this and took measures to defend their positions, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"With their courage and perseverance, our brave soldiers kept their positions at the border. Despite the difficult conditions up there, in the beginning of winter. They stand there and defend the fatherland and the entire parliament stands behind them."

There is no official state border between India and China, instead there are several lines drawn by the British colonial rulers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A region in the east of Ladakh, called Aksai Chin, is therefore controversial. It is a barren landscape of rocks, glaciers and salt lakes at an altitude of 4,000 meters.

There is also an area in the Indian state of Sikkim in the triangle of India-China-Bhutan and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese government calls southern Tibet.

The conflict flares up parallel to China's expansive policy

The renewed flare-up of the decades-long conflict is related to the expansive policy of the People's Republic of China, which can also be observed in other regions of the world, according to Harsh V. Pant, from the Observer Research Foundation ORF, in Delhi:

"Many see this as part of the determination China is showing in other regions, such as the South China Sea, as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong. India would certainly like to settle the conflict amicably, but Indian forces will take their position on the border hold for as long as the situation requires. "

In September the Indian border troops were equipped for the winter. Transport planes and helicopters brought clothing and equipment for the cold months in the high mountains to Ladakh. More than 150,000 tons of equipment and food would be ready for the next few months, said Major General Arvind Kapoor, at the airport in the provincial capital Leh, to a reporter for the Reuters news agency.

"The processes have been optimized so that supplies for the winter run smoothly. Private logistics companies can also be involved if this becomes necessary in order to supply the troops that have been built up here in the past few weeks."

Storage capacities for fuel and other supplies have been built around Leh airport. From there, the soldiers on the border line would be supplied, according to the Indian Air Force commander, Devendra P. Hirani.

"The cooperation between the army and the air force is intended to ensure that the soldiers who are at the very front of the controversial border line can be quickly supplied with all the necessary goods."

Over Leh, the capital of the Indian high mountain territory Ladakh, helicopters of the Indian armed forces can be heard and seen again and again. Not far from there is the controversial Line of Actual Control.

Again and again incidents and trials of strength at the unofficial border

More shots were fired at the beginning of September. The Chinese People's Liberation Army fired warning shots to intimidate the Indian border guards, the Defense Ministry said in a statement in Delhi. But the brave soldiers of the border troops held their position and protected Indian territory.

China claims the Indian soldiers shot and tried to penetrate Chinese territory. Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijiang, spoke of a serious military provocation from the Indian side.

"We have called on the Indian side to end their dangerous game immediately and withdraw their people from the border line. The Chinese border troops will consistently do their job and resolutely defend the territorial integrity of our country."

Which side shot or shot first is unclear. However, Tashi Tsephel and Tshering Gyalpo, two residents of Leh, were extremely concerned.

"Early in the morning, around 3 o'clock, we heard the first gunshots in the border area. That scared everyone here."

"We don't know what exactly was going on. We haven't had the internet for days and the cell phone network is also switched off. But early in the morning there was fire, for about an hour and a half, including artillery."

Time and again, small groups of demonstrators march through the streets of Leh, demanding an end to the conflict.

(imago / Kyodo News) China competence center in Constance
China's importance as a business partner is growing and growing. In Konstanz they responded: with a competence center. Difficult issues such as human rights are also on the agenda.

The local residents' fear of war

The inhabitants of the high mountain region are worried. Sonam Tsering, from the small town of Chushul in Ladakh, very close to the controversial Line of Actual Control.

"Our cattle herders are no longer allowed to go near the border area. The Chinese People's Army is getting closer and closer there. Every year they get a few kilometers from our country."

India and China should finally come to an agreement and resolve the conflict, said Mohammad Amin Galwan, another Leh resident. Otherwise, he fears, the situation could lead to war.

"They talk at the highest level, but it can still lead to a war. Under no circumstances should that happen. We are already struggling with a pandemic, a war would make people's lives even more difficult here."

Chinese state television has repeatedly shown images of military maneuvers in Tibet in the past few months. Most recently in mid-September, when the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), which is strictly speaking an army of the Chinese Communist Party, tried out the cooperation of tank divisions and artillery on the Tibetan plateau.

The border conflict between India and China has long since affected trade relations between the two countries. In the past few months, there have been repeated loud protests against China on the streets of Delhi and other major Indian cities, as can be seen on footage from the Reuters news agency. After the clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers, angry demonstrators burned cheap Chinese toys and called for a boycott of Chinese products.

"Enough is enough! We have already put up with too much. Now we will not just talk, but act. We Indians have decided not to buy cheap Chinese products in future, they are of poor quality anyway. We will boycott China and break their backbone economically. "

In Delhi, the demonstrators built a gallows to symbolically hang China's President Xi Jinping. In the heated mood, some were apparently even ready to go to war against China. The last time there was a war between the two nuclear powers was in 1962.

"If we have to, we will not hesitate to take up arms and support our soldiers in defending our country."

Propaganda battle, digital weapons and economic pressure

(imago images / ZUMA Press / hangxWenkui) Digitization and surveillance in China
Party leader Xi Jinping is using digital means to return to totalitarianism in China, criticizes the sinologist Kai Strittmatter. Above all, it is about the influence on people's thinking.

The Indian government blocked dozen mostly Chinese mobile phone apps - including the video portal TikTok, which has more than 100 million users in India, the messenger service WeChat and the browser of the Chinese Internet giant Alibaba. The programs endangered India's sovereignty, state security and public order, the Ministry of Information Technology said. That's right, said Indian internet security expert Pavan Duggal.

"By banning these apps, India has shown the rest of the world that we will no longer tolerate anyone trying to interfere in our internal affairs."

There was immediate protest from China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in a press briefing in Beijing:

"China is very concerned about the Indian decision. We have always made sure that our companies adhere to international rules and the Indian government has a duty to ensure that the legal framework for investments by Chinese companies is respected."

The economic war between India and China is in full swing and preparations appear to be underway for a possible military escalation. But a direct war between India and China is not in the interests of either country.

At the same time, China is militarily superior to its rival India. As the Stockholm peace research institute SIPRI found in its latest report, China spends over USD 260 billion annually on its military, while India only spends around USD 71 billion. China is also way ahead when it comes to nuclear weapons. According to the SIPRI report, it is estimated that China has 320 nuclear warheads and India has around 150.