Flashpoints | Security | South Asia

US Congressman ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Ongoing India-China Crisis

The United States and India are in touch about the ongoing standoff in eastern Ladakh.

Abhijnan Rej
US Congressman ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Ongoing India-China Crisis

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper hosts a bilateral meeting with India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Dec. 18, 2019.

Credit: Flickr/U.S. Secretary of Defense

As the India-China military crisis in eastern Ladakh shows no sign of abating, the U.S. Congress’ House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a classified briefing on the issue on September 15. Following the briefing, Committee member Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi noted: “I am deeply concerned about this issue, which is why I authored a bipartisan resolution overwhelmingly approved by the House urging China to end its military provocations of India and to pursue a diplomatic resolution.”

Also on Thursday, the U.S. National Security Council’s Senior Director for South and Central Asia Lisa Curtis claimed that “China’s recent actions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has further reinforced the importance of the U.S.-India strategic partnership, and our resolve to strengthen the US-India ties as a bulwark against Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.” Earlier this month, President Donald Trump had also commented on the crisis, noting that India and China “are going at it pretty good on the border,” adding that “It has been very nasty.”

Curtis’ remarks and Krishnamoorthi’s statement comes alongside new reports that China has built up its troops at the other end of the 3,488-kilometers LAC, in the eastern sector along the Tibet-Arunachal Pradesh border, after Indian forces late last month seized unoccupied heights near Rezang La and Rechin La, in the vicinity of the south bank of the Pangong Lake, one of the flashpoints. India Today reported on September 15 that government sources had told the magazine the People’s Liberation Army had built up its forces in “Arunachal Pradesh’s Asaphila, Tuting axis, Chang Tze and Fishtail-2 sectors, nearly 20 km from the Indian territory.”

Whether this is a defensive move on the part of the PLA to prevent an Indian thrust in the eastern sector in order to seek a quid pro quo in Ladakh, or a run-up to Chinese offensive action to force India off the heights it now occupies, is not known. Both China and India have deployed around five divisions of troops each in eastern Ladakh, with commensurate hardware including tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery, missiles, and air defense systems. New reports that emerged earlier this week also suggest that in the run-up to the September 10 meeting between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers, both militaries had fired between 100 and 200 rounds of ammunition on the north bank of the Pangong Lake – a development far more serious that the reports of warning shots been fired on September 7.

The precise role the United States is playing in helping India manage the crisis is not known, though both sides have been in touch since early on.

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On May 20, Trump tweeted about the “raging border dispute” between India and China and offered to mediate between the two, at a time when the Indian government was busy downplaying the tensions. The timing of his tweet strongly suggests that this was following the daily intelligence briefing U.S. presidents receive. In early June, Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the LAC crisis during a phone call, according to White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. On July 22, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper had noted that the U.S. was “obviously monitoring” the situation along the LAC; earlier that month, according to Indian government sources, Esper had also discussed the Ladakh crisis with his Indian counterpart, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. According to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he has also spoken “a number of times” about the ongoing standoff with the Indian foreign minister, S. Jaishankar.

Privately, well-connected observers have noted that it is very likely the U.S. is sharing geospatial intelligence on the situation with India, possibly along the lines of what it did during the 2017 India-China Doklam crisis.