Dealing with the neighbors

     India shares borders with several sovereign countries; it shares land borders with China, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in the north or north-west, and with Bangladesh and Myanmar in the east. India also shares water borders with Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. They are more like our neighbors.

     India faced major challenges in its neighborhood from China: the whole COVID-19 pandemic, the growing competition for influence in South Asia, and aggressive action at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

What are the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA)?

The Line of Actual Control (LAC): The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a notional demarcation line that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory in the Sino-Indian border dispute. It subsequently referred to the line formed after the 1962 Sino-Indian War and is part of the Sino-Indian border dispute.

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA): The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the regular armed forces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the PRC’s founding and ruling political party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Besides the Central Military Commission and several minor units directly under it, the PLA has five major service branches: the Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and the Strategic Support Force. A majority of military units around the country are assigned to one of five theater commands by geographical location. The PLA is the world’s largest military force and constitutes the second-largest defense budget in the world.

How India is dealing with the COVID-19 Challenge:

     The COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China has led to one of the biggest health challenges, causing heavy economic damage in South Asia. India stands second after the United States in terms of the number of cases, and the worst-hit economy among G20 nations. But India is also one of the best-poised nations to aid recovery efforts in the region, given its status as one of the world’s leading producers of pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines. In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a special virtual summit of eight SAARC nations and proposed a COVID-19 package, for which India provided about half of the $20 million funding for relief. India’s military ran a series of missions to SAARC countries and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with supplies of food and medicines, and India’s ‘Vande Bharat’ mission flew home nationals from neighboring countries, along with lakhs of Indians who had been stranded during the lockdown.

     India was not the only country in the region providing help. China, too, stepped up efforts to extend its influence in the South Asian region through COVID-19 relief.

What is the matter with Line of Actual Control (LAC) and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA)?

     China doubled down on territorial claims and its transgressions along its borders with South Asia: from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, PLA soldiers amassed along various sectors of the LAC, leading to violent clashes. The deaths of 20 Indian soldiers at the Galwan valley was the first such casualty in 45 years. China also laid claim to Bhutan’s Sakteng natural reserves and pushed along the boundary lines with Nepal, all of which changed India’s strategic calculations along its Himalayan frontiers. That India and Nepal saw their worst tensions in decades over the construction of a road to Lipulekh, leading to Nepal amending its construction and map to claim Indian territory, added to the already fraught situation. Meanwhile, a new defense pact this year between China and Pakistan vis-à-vis a sharp rise in ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LOC) with Pakistan to the highest levels since 2003, has made it clear that India must factor in among its military challenges at the LAC the possibility of a two-front war.