Galwan valley, about sixty kilometres north of the city of Ladakh, is back in the spotlight — the latest flashpoint between India and China. In early May, China moved two brigade-strength of People’s Liberation Army, over 6,000 soldiers and supporting infra, to four locations in eastern Ladakhthree in the Galwan Valley and one near Pangong Lake. In response, India also rushed to match these numbers with high-altitude warfare troops along the Line of Actual Control
 
 
What
  1. The two nuclear armed trans-Himalayan neighbours coming head-to-head at the border generated high heat in military and political corridors again, though not as high as the last time when the two had squared off at Doklam nearly three years ago, remaining deadlocked for 72 days.
  2. Both sides are making efforts to de-escalate the tension at the border, and the chances are that status quo — albeit an uneasy one — will return in a while. 
  3. There, however, are a few contexts that make this feud different from other recent episodes — Depsang in 2013, Chumur in 2014, and Doklam in 2017
  4. Unlike past conflicts, the stand-off this time is at more than one location, including the Finger areas of the Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Gogra post in Ladakh and the Naku La pass in Sikkim, and de-inducting soldiers from these remote areas would require careful strategising.
Cartographic Changes
  1. The abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir and the creation of the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh have inducted an element of strain in bilateral relation. With India redrawing borders to carve out the three, China has accused India of breaching territorial limits.
  2. Prior to this, in March 2019, Chinese customs officials destroyed 30,000 world maps printed in the country for not showing Arunachal Pradesh and Taiwan as part of its territory. 
  3. In April this year, China’s latest Sky Map - the official digital map operated by Beijing's National Surveying and Mapping Geographic Information Bureau - showed parts of Arunachal Pradesh within its international borders.
Aksai Chin & Renewed Focus on Ladakh
  1. Beijing had a sudden outburst over Ladakh’s changed status — a move it described as ‘unacceptable’ and one that undermined its ‘sovereignty’ — even raising the issue at the informal meet of the UN Security Council last year. 
  2. India responded by saying Ladakh’s new status was an “internal matter” having "no impact” on the LAC status.
  3. Also, in August last year, Home Minister Amit Shah vowed in Parliament to “take back” Aksai Chin, further stoking China's resentment. 
  4. The current intrusion in Ladakh appears aimed at reaffirming China’s claim over the Aksai Chin Plateau.
India-Pakistan-China Equations
  1. India’s strategic intent has also become firmer since last year. It reclaimed PoK in accordance with the February, 1994 Parliament resolution, even considering options to regain physical possession of Gilgit-Baltistan.
  2. The Survey of India’s new map depicts Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai China within the UT Ladakh boundary. Another subtle move was the India Meteorological Department including areas in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan in its daily weather forecasts, starting May 6.
  3. This, just days after Pakistan Supreme Court permitted the federal government to hold elections in the region. Also, Pakistan has, since then, ceded territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to China, making Beijing a stakeholder in the occupied area.
Absence of a Diplomatic Statement
  1. Another deviation in the Chinese playbook is the avoidance of an official acknowledgement on the situation at LAC
  2. Even though China’s foreign ministry did issue a statement on the Naku-La pass (Sikkim) standoff, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in his annual press conference on May 24, chose not to touch the LAC stand-off with India, instead opting to make a statement on Hong Kong.
  3. Even the Chinese media has so far avoided hyping up the incident on the scale that they did during the Doklam standoff.
Wuhan Agreement
  1. India's curbs on Chinese investments in Indian companies and the government's call on boycotting China-made products could also be seen as a violation of the Wuhan Agreement, which Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi had signed a couple of years ago. 
  2. The two nations agreed to be friends and partners, and not rivals. Also, India's alliance with the United States, Japan and Australia to conduct naval exercises regularly, has also put its relationship with China in a precarious spot.
Coronavirus Link
  1. The recent pandemic, which has now claimed more than 4,20,000 lives worldwide, could also complicate matters this time around. 
  2. With India a party to the common global perception that China's secrecy on the virus early on led to such a heavy and widespread toll, the spectre of Covid-19 is likely to hang like the proverbial Damocles' Sword over any India-China negotiations.