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Slow-burning conflict flares up in Asia

International | India-China border dispute started at least a century ago
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/19/20, 04:06 pm

Chanting protesters set fire to Chinese flags and images of Chinese leader Xi Jinping near the country’s embassy in New Delhi on Wednesday. An Indian union of small and medium-sized companies also called for a boycott of 500 Chinese goods following a fight along a disputed border in the Himalayas some 14,000 feet above sea level.

Monday’s confrontation was the deadliest between India and China since 1975, when Chinese troops ambushed and killed four Indian soldiers in the contentious region. The two countries traded blame for the overnight fighting, which occurred in the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh region. An unarmed patrol team from the Indian army tried to talk to Chinese troops who were returning to a border camp despite agreeing earlier to leave, local media reported. The situation quickly escalated, with troops fighting with their fists, stones, nail-studded iron rods, and batons wrapped in barbed wire, according to an Indian CNN affiliate.

The Indian army initially reported three deaths and later said another 17 soldiers died after they were “critically injured in the line of duty and exposed to subzero temperatures in the high-altitude terrain.” China confirmed the “provocative attacks” but has not said whether any of its soldiers died.

The argument over the border dates back at least a century. After a short war in 1962, China and India agreed to a shaky truce that created the Line of Actual Control, which stretches about 2,100 miles. But fighting has flared up several times since then. China claims ownership of about 35,000 square miles in northeastern India, while India accuses China of occupying 15,000 square miles of its territory.

The latest conflict began in May, when Indian troops reported that Chinese soldiers crossed the border and set up tents and guard posts at three different points. Despite military and diplomatic interventions, thousands of soldiers have fought in skirmishes since then, engaging in yelling matches, fistfights, and stone-throwing.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned India not to underestimate China’s commitment to protecting what it perceives as its sovereign territory. His Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said the incident would have “serious repercussions” for the nations’ relationship.

Gareth Price, a senior research fellow with the U.K.-based think tank Chatham House, reported that India introduced a new policy blocking foreign investment from China in April, a move Beijing considered discriminatory. India also has continued to build strategic roads along its side of the border in recent years to give the military easier access.

The two nationalist governments have pushed beyond their other borders, as well. Beijing openly condemned India’s move in August 2019 to revoke the semi-autonomous status of Kashmir, parts of which are claimed by Pakistan and China. Meanwhile, China has extended its boundaries in the South China Sea and increased its economic reach into South Asian countries, including Nepal and Bangladesh.

“China seems to be undermining India’s leadership in South Asia,” explained Jabin Jacob, an associate professor in the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies at Shiv Nadar University in India.

He said the two nuclear powers likely want to avoid a war partly due to their economic ties. But the latest skirmish will usher in a new normal. “I think both leaders are powerful enough to ignore public opinion,” Jacob said. “But we’re looking at a future where these incidents would continue.”

Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa (file) Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa (file) Meriam Ibrahim

Hope for religious freedom

In 2014, Sudanese authorities sentenced Meriam Yahia Ibrahim to 100 lashes and death for adultery and apostasy after she married a Christian man and refused to renounce her faith in Christ. Authorities later released her, but Sudanese Christians still face the fear of torture, arrest, and death. The country’s transitional government and a pro-democracy group agreed recently to form a religious freedom commission to respond.

Antagonism toward Christians took hold in Sudan during former President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year reign, which began in 1989. He introduced Islamic law in 1991, sparking rebellions in Sudan’s primarily Christian southern states. Government forces arrested and tortured political and religious opposition and dropped thousands of bombs on civilians in the area following South Sudan’s declaration of independence in 2011.

The International Criminal Court indicted Bashir on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013, and a military coup ousted him last year. But the transitional government and its Islamic supporters have committed similar atrocities. In June 2019, Sudanese doctors estimated that more than 100 people died and 500 were injured after military forces whipped and shot at protesters in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.

Open Doors USA’s World Watch List currently ranks Sudan as the seventh-worst country for persecution of Christians. But in the latest round of peace talks, the transitional government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North, a rebel group from Christian regions in southern Sudan known as the Two Areas, announced via Facebook a resolution to establish a commission for religious freedom.

Yasir Arman, the rebel group’s deputy leader, expressed hope for Christians during a news conference on May 21: “Today, we have agreed to establish the religious freedom commission because the Two Areas have a considerable number of Sudanese Christians. So this is an important issue that has been resolved.” —Brooke Nevins

Associated Press/Photo by Aaron Favila Associated Press/Photo by Aaron Favila Maria Ressa (left) and Reynaldo Santos Jr. in Manila on Monday

Intimidation of the press

A court in Manila this week convicted a prominent journalist and her colleague of libel in a devastating strike against the freedom of the press in the Philippines.

The online news site Rappler published a story in 2012 accusing a Philippine businessman and judge of corruption. Now the government is charging Rappler co-founder Maria Ressa and her former colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr. with “cyberlibel” under a law that didn’t exist at the time they published the report. Ressa faces a possible six-year prison sentence but said she will continue reporting as she appeals the ruling.

“We’re at the precipice,” she said. “If we fall over, we’re no longer a democracy.”

Freedoms for the media have continued to deteriorate under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte. Reporters Without Borders identified Ressa’s case as part of a multiyear judicial harassment campaign to intimidate the Rappler staff. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Berthier Mugiraneza (file) Associated Press/Photo by Berthier Mugiraneza (file) Evariste Ndayishimiye

New Burundian leader steps in

A huge crowd gathered at a stadium in Burundi’s Gitega province on Thursday to usher in Evariste Ndayishimiye as the nation’s new president two months early.

Burundi officials had planned to swear in Ndayishimiye on Aug. 20, but his predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, died from cardiac arrest last week. The constitutional court on Friday ruled Ndayishimiye should take office as soon as possible to avoid a power vacuum. His inauguration marks the country’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of power. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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