India and China Skirmishes Expose Old Colonial Wounds

Chinese Border Aggression Prompts A Software Boycott in India

Since the mid-twentieth century, India and China have had a complex relationship. China and India have engaged in three major military conflicts, which took place along a disputed border along the Himalayas. The most deadly of those conflicts was the 1962 Sino-Indian war that resulted in 2,000 people losing their lives. The rapid economic development that took place in both states since the 1970s, have encouraged their respective governments to pursue close economic ties. Furthermore, both India and China’s membership of the BRICS organisation seemed to pave the way for improved bilateral relations. Despite the advantages that economic cooperation offered, continued conflicts regarding the border. As 2020 seems to be the year in which all conflicts decided to flare up at once, skirmishes between both states have happened once again along the Himalayas, triggering a massive anti-Chinese sentiment among the Indian populace. Furthermore, the Indian government has also decided to enforce a boycott of Chinese software. 
 
CAUSES OF BORDER DISPUTE
 
The root causes of the border dispute can be traced back to the early days of the British Empire. As Russia started to expand throughout Asia during the nineteenth century, Britain sought to create a buffer that would deter the Russians. As such, in 1865 a British official called William Johnson who worked for the Survey of India at the time proposed the land boundaries of India. His boundary mapping included the region of Aksai Chin as part of Jammu and Kashmir. Aksai Chin is a mountainous region situated between Ladakh, the easternmost region of Jammu and Kashmir and western Xinjiang. At the time, Xinjiang was not under Chinese rule and as a result the borders did not cause any strife. However, trouble started to arise once China conquered Xinjiang in the 1870s, and subsequently claimed Aksai Chin as part of Xinjiang. In 1899, British colonial officials would come up with new borders, which this time placed Aksai Chin under Chinese rule, this became known as the Macartney-Macdonald Line. Despite the fact that the new boundaries fell in China’s favour, the Chinese government never officialised these arrangements since it never responded to Britain’s proposal. Colonial administrator Sir Henry McMahon gave more attempt at resolving the dispute as led the Simla Conference in 1914. British, Chinese and Tibetan officials attended the conference that resulted in the new McMahon line. Although Chinese delegates attended the conference, they did not attend the treaty’s signing and refused to do so because China was resentful over the fact that Britain included Tibetans in the agreement fearing that this would lay grounds for a sovereign Tibetan state. When Chinese state completely took over Tibet in 1950, it would claim that the McMahon treaty was now null and void due to the fact that Tibet had now lost its sovereignty. Furthermore, Beijing would assert that the Indian territory of Arunchal Pradesh as Chinese territory due to historical claims that the region was once part of Southern Tibet. The border issue was never resolved during the time of the British Empire, and by the time India gained independence in 1947 the issue of Aksai Chin/Ladakh would become a ticking time bomb that detonated in 1962. The war between India and China was brief as it only lasted one month and a day, and during the conflict the Chinese army would temporarily invade Arunchal Pradesh. After the war, both sides agreed to adhere to the Line of Actual Control (LOC), however this was not a ratified treaty that resolved the issue as territorial disputes as the line only marks where Chinese forces stand and where Indian forces stand. Moreover, border skirmishes still continued form time to time to time to time but no conflict came close to the severity of that of the 1962 War. 
 
2020 SKIRMISHES
 
In May and June, new skirmishes between the Indian army and the Chinese army occurred along the Line of Actual Control. On the surface, the conflict was triggered when Chinese forces objected to Indian infrastructure works along the Galwan River valley. This comes in spite of the fact that China has constructed its own roads within the Line of Actual Control, the first of which came in 1956 when China built a road through Aksai Chin that connected Tibet and Xinjiang. The skirmishes resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, while China has yet to publish its own casualty figures. 
 
Some foreign policy analysts believe that Beijing’s decision to engage with New Delhi might have in fact been an attempt to bolster its image both within China and outside China as the COVID-19 pandemic has made the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) an unpopular entity on the world stage. Although, the conflict seemed to have brewed out of nowhere, some politicians in India have been weary of Chinese activity in the Line of Actual Control. In a series of Facebook posts dating back to May 2019, Urgain Chodon a BJP councillor for Ladakh stated that Chinese soldiers had been slowly encroaching Indian territory in order to assert dominance over areas constituting the disputed border. She said that Ladakhi farmers living along the border have been losing grazing land due to increased presence of Chinese soldiers who threaten them. In another post, the councillor claimed that Chinese soldiers had entered 6 km into Indian territory at Dhola village in Nyoma Block. The soldiers then banned the locals from waving Indian, Tibetan and Buddhist flags in celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and instead hoisted the Chinese national flag. According to Chodon, this has been happening for a number of years, but successive govaernments, including the current BJP government ignored the issue. 
 
BOYCOTT OF CHINA
 
This incident triggered a renewed sense of nationalism within Indian inhabitants, as several people have campaigned in favour of a boycott of Chinese products. While the government did not make any calls for boycotts, it did issue national bans on over one hundred mobile apps such as TikTok, WeChat and CamCard. Most recently, the government also banned PUBG a popular video game, which although is made by a South Korean studio, its smartphone port was developed by Tencent a Chinese company. The Indian government claimed that the reason for these bans is due to fears that theses apps infringe of users’ privacy and are a threat to Indian national security. It is still unclear how a nationwide ban of these apps will affect China, but it should be noted that India is one of the largest marketplaces for Chinese applications. For instance, there are over 200 million TikTok users in India making it the apps largest international market. Too put into context, TikTok’s second largest international userbase is in the US and it only has around 80 million TikTok users.