On May 5, a scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese troops at the Pangong Tso lake, located 14,000 feet (4,270 metres) above the sea level in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.
A video shot by an Indian soldier and shared on social media showed soldiers from both nations engaged in fistfights and stone-pelting at the de facto border, known as Line of Actual Control (LAC). The incident, which continued until the next day, resulted in 11 soldiers being injured on both sides.
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Three days later and nearly 1,200km (745 miles) away to the east along the LAC, another fight erupted at Nathu La Pass in the Indian state of Sikkim after Indian soldiers stopped a patrol party from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Both countries downplayed the incidents, and the issues were resolved at the local commander level, as has generally been done in the past.
But in the weeks since then, the India-China border has seen soldiers from both sides camping along several disputed areas, with each side accusing the other of trespassing.
“China is committed to safeguarding the security of its national territorial sovereignty, as well as safeguarding peace and stability in the China-India border areas,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.
Pangong Tso lake situated along the India-China border in Ladakh, India [Ashok Nath/IndiaPictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images]
Reason behind latest tension
There was no immediate comment from India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), but last week it accused the Chinese troops of hindering regular Indian patrols along the LAC.
“All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns,” MEA spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.
About 80 to 100 tents have sprung up on the Chinese side, and nearly 60 on the Indian side, the Reuters news agency reported based on information from the Indian officials.
At least 10,000 PLA soldiers are now believed to be camping on what India claims to be its territory – Pangong Tso Lake, Galwan Valley and Demchok in Ladakh, and Nathu La in Sikkim, according to the Indian media reports.
On May 22, India’s army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane dashed off to Leh, the capital of Ladakh territory which was carved out of Indian-administered Kashmir last August, to take stock of the situation.
With little information shared by the two countries, media reports have speculated on the reasons behind the latest border standoff. The tension might have been triggered by infrastructure activities carried out by India along the LAC, analysts say.
In the past 10 years, India has been boosting its border infrastructure, with new roads and airbases inaugurated in remote Himalayan areas.
The border skirmishes are not new to the 3,488km (2,167-mile) frontier between India and China, most of which remains disputed and undemarcated. But the de facto border has largely remained calm despite hundreds of skirmishes that occur every year.
In this May 5, 2013 file photo, Chinese troops in Ladakh, India hold a banner that reads: ‘You’ve crossed the border, please go back’ [AP Photo]
Analysts fear the latest standoff may escalate, as Chinese trucks have allegedly moved equipment inside the Indian side of LAC.
China wants the border problem to linger; it keeps India off balance and prevents India from focusing its attention on Tibet, where China is in deep problem[s].
Ajai Shukla, Indian defence analyst
Ajai Shukla, a defence analyst based in New Delhi, fears that any further escalation would mean “all-out combat”.
“Thousands of Chinese troops are on Indian soil. The only thing that remains for them is to engage in combat,” he said.
“China could be using the excuse of construction activity to put pressure on India for completely different political or economic objective[s], and that we do not know. We do not know what the Chinese objectives are in this particular case.”
Writing in the pro-Beijing Global Times newspaper, Long Xingchun from Beijing Foreign Studies University said the latest border friction was “a planned move” by New Delhi.
“India in recent days has illegally constructed defence facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region, leaving Chinese border defence troops no other options but making necessary moves in response, and mounting the risk of escalating standoffs and conflicts between the two sides,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with the three services chiefs and the National Security Adviser amid the worst India-China border tensions since the 2017 Doklam standoff that continued for 73 days.
The Doklam face-off was triggered after Indian soldiers stopped the PLA from building a road in Doklam, which is claimed by Bhutan, a close ally of India.
Some analysts have suggested that the Chinese border assertion was a way to divert global attention from its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘China doesn’t need another confrontation’
But Adam Ni, director of the China Policy Centre based in Canberra, Australia, said both the countries have an interest in maintaining peace since they are facing domestic challenges.
Ni said Beijing has plenty of issues to deal with, such as Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and economic recovery – as well as its relationship with the United States, which has taken a confrontational turn – to just a name a few.
“So it does not need another confrontation at this point in time,” he said while appearing on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story programme.
India and China fought a war in 1962, but the border issues have lingered on, with Beijing claiming the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and New Delhi considering China-controlled Aksai Chin as its territory.
In the late 1980s, then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi held talks with his Chinese counterpart Deng Xiaoping in Beijing to reset the ties. Since then, the border had largely remained calm, with the two countries agreeing to formulate guidelines to manage the frontier.
In 1993, an agreement to maintain peace at the border was signed. Important confidence-building measures on boundary issues were further signed in 1996 and 2006.
Post-1990s, the two countries have focused on economic cooperation with bilateral trade going up to $92bn, but a large trade deficit has kept India concerned.
Last month, the Modi government put curbs on Chinese investments, a step Beijing called “discriminatory”.
India’s support for Tibet and its growing defence and security ties with the US, Japan and Australia have resulted in further suspicion from Beijing.
Meanwhile, China’s increasingly closer ties with Pakistan – which has long-running disputes with India – and Nepal have not pleased New Delhi, either.
Moreover, China’s ambitious Belt and Road Project and its massive defence budget pose a major geostrategic challenge to India. At $261bn, China’s defence budget is more than three times of India’s total of $71bn.
We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
After Indian Prime Minister Modi came to power in 2014, he has engaged with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
But analysts say the two Modi-Xi summits held so far, which called for moving beyond Doklam and “maintaining peace and tranquility” along LAC, seem to have come undone.
“China wants the border problem to linger; it keeps India off balance and prevents India from focusing its attention on Tibet, where China is in deep problem[s],” defence analyst Shukla said.
The last major border tension occurred in 2014, when Chinese troops reportedly entered Indian territory in Ladakh. The standoff was resolved after three weeks.
Will the current standoff be resolved at the local level – or will it escalate?
Manoj Kewalramani, a fellow in China Studies at The Takshashila Institution based in India’s Bengaluru city, believes the present situation germinated from local-level frictions over patrolling and infrastructure development, which rapidly escalated.
“What’s happening today does seem to have central guidance in China, with the leadership not wanting to appear weak on territorial issues. In that sense, this situation fits a pattern of the escalation in the South China Sea and Hong Kong,” he told Al Jazeera.
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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