lørdag 20. juni 2020

Why are China and India fighting over an inhospitable strip of the Himalayas?

After over four decades of saber-rattling and minor scuffles, a border dispute between China and India has again turned fatal.At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a bloody brawl with Chinese troops on Monday in the Galwan Valley, close to Aksai Chin, an area controlled by China but claimed by both countries. It is unclear if or how many Chinese soldiers died. Both sides have accused the other of overstepping the de facto border, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that runs along the western sector of the valley. The details of the encounter remain confused, however, and may never be fully clear.

The two nuclear-armed neighbors are now attempting a rapid deescalation of tensions, even as some jingoistic and hawkish voices in both countries are demanding greater defiance and aggression. For its part, China had already moved large numbers of troops and armaments to the region, while India has also reportedly reinforced its position, though New Delhi has been less vocal about its military strength there.

Aksai Chin, the area in contention, is claimed as part of Xinjiang by China and Ladakh by India. It is cold and inhospitable, draped in snow with temperatures around freezing, even in summer. Located high in the Himalayas, the average altitude is 14,000 feet (4,200 meters), almost double the height where altitude sickness kicks in, meaning any humans in the area have to undergo tedious, gradual acclimatisation or suffer crippling headaches, nausea and fatigue.