On the face of it, they are three separate incidents, with only China in common. For the past 10 days, Chinese and Indian troops have been facing off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) near Doka La at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. Chinese troops reportedly destroyed two Indian bunkers along the border, and Indian troops had to literally jostle with the Chinese and form a human wall to prevent them from intruding into Sikkim. Despite a flag meeting of senior army officials from both sides on June 20, the situation remains tense.
A day earlier, on June 19, about 50 Indian pilgrims undertaking the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra were stopped by Chinese officials at the Sino-India border at Nathu La, also in Sikkim.
They were scheduled to cross over to the Chinese side on June 19, but bad weather forced them to wait at the base camp. On June 23, China denied them entry, initially citing security reasons, and then bad road conditions due to landslides on the Chinese side.
And then, on June 25, in a strongly worded editorial, China’s state-run Global Times launched a scathing attack on the Afghanistan-India air freight corridor inaugurated last week. Slamming India’s “stubborn geopolitical thinking”, the editorial by Wang Jiamei declared: “India has always been pushing back against the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, so its intention to create its own connectivity network appears to be a strategy to counterbalance the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — a flagship connectivity project under the B&R — especially to bypass Pakistan, which has prohibited India from transporting any goods through its territory due to their tense relationship.
It is undeniable that geopolitical issues are complicated in this region, but it would still be better for India to develop economic and trade relations with Pakistan.”
Says C V Ranganathan, who served as India’s ambassador to China during 1987-1991, “None of these is a good development. We have a new agreement where senior officials meet the moment we have any issue on the border. As for the air transport corridor, it is an agreement between two sovereign nations, so one can’t explain why the Chinese have said this. It is unacceptable. It is a symptom of how the relationship is deteriorating.”
Bhaskar Roy, a senior intelligence official who served in China before retiring, however, has a different take on it.
Noting that these incidents occurred just before and during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US to meet US president Donald Trump, he said: “This is a kind of warning to Modi and India to not get involved in the South China Sea with the US. Essentially, they are saying that if we do that, they can create a lot of problems for us. They have already officially said that India and US should not interfere in the South China Sea. When the Chinese do such things, they like to use a multi-pronged approach.”