India army apprehends Chinese soldier amid military standoff

Above, a satellite image taken on June 22, 2020 shows road construction near the Line of Actual Control in the eastern Ladakh sector, the border between India and China. (Maxar Technologies/AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2020

India army apprehends Chinese soldier amid military standoff

  • Soldier ‘had strayed’ across the de facto border along the eastern section of what’s known as the Line of Actual Control
  • Relations between the two countries have often been strained, partly due to their undemarcated border

SRINAGAR, India: The Indian army said it apprehended a Chinese soldier Monday in the remote Ladakh region, where the two countries are locked in a monthslong military standoff along their disputed mountain border.
The soldier, Cpl. Wang Ya Long from China’s People’s Liberation Army, was apprehended inside Indian-controlled Ladakh’s Demchok area and was to be released soon, the army said in a statement.
It said the soldier “had strayed” across the de facto border along the eastern section of what’s known as the Line of Actual Control, a loose demarcation separating Indian- and Chinese-controlled areas.
“As per established protocols, he will be returned back to Chinese officials at the Chushul–Moldo meeting point after completion of formalities,” the statement said.
China did not immediately comment on the soldier’s apprehension.
The high-altitude standoff between the Asian giants began in early May with a fierce brawl, and exploded into hand-to-hand combat with clubs, stones and fists on June 15 that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. China is believed to also have had casualties, but has not given any details.
The nuclear-armed rivals have accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time in 45 years.
The Indian army statement said the Indian side had received an inquiry from China’s military “about the whereabouts of the missing soldier.”
The soldier “has been provided medical assistance including oxygen, food and warm clothes to protect him from the vagaries of extreme altitude and harsh climatic conditions,” the statement said.
India and China have each stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets and are bracing for a harsh winter in the cold-desert region, where temperatures can fall to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit).
The sides have held several rounds of talks by military, diplomatic and political officials, including negotiations between their foreign ministers and defense ministers in Moscow last month. Although the standoff has persisted, the talks seem to have calmed the situation along the border, with no new military aggression reported for over a month now.
The fiercely contested Line of Actual Control separates Chinese-held and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. It is broken in parts where the Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan border China.
India claims the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin plateau as part of the Ladakh region.
According to India, the control line is 3,488 kilometers long, while China says it is considerably shorter. The line divides the areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.
Relations between the two countries have often been strained, partly due to their undemarcated border. They fought a border war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh and ended in an uneasy truce. Since then, troops have guarded the undefined border and occasionally brawled. They have agreed not to attack each other with firearms.
India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory and separated it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019, ending Indian-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status. It also vowed to take back the Aksai Chin plateau.
China was among the first countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the UN Security Council.


How a new social contract could salvage French secularism

Updated 30 November 2020

How a new social contract could salvage French secularism

  • SciencesPo teacher David Djaiz wants France to promote civic friendship and reaffirm French values to combat terrorism
  • Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey found young people are more distrusting of French institutions than their older counterparts

PARIS: Violence inspired by radical Islam has created a growing sense of insecurity, fear and Islamophobia in France, which has only fueled the conflation of Islam and Islamism in the public’s consciousness, an Arab News/YouGov poll of French people of Arab origin has found.

On Oct. 29, three people were killed in a stabbing attack near the Notre-Dame basilica in the southern French city of Nice. It followed the beheading of a French school teacher near Paris on Oct. 16, who had used caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson about freedom of expression.

The attacks have led to a sharpening of rhetoric, both domestically and on the world stage, which has brought France’s core value of secularism under the spotlight and raised the spectre of cultural conflict.

“It is clear that terrorism is also an act of communication. Added to the barbarity of the modus operandi is a desire to accelerate the break up the society in order to start a war of religion by accrediting the thesis that the Republic persecutes its Muslim citizens,” David Djaiz, an essayist and professor at the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), told Arab News.

Djaiz believes this is due in part to a mistranslation of French society’s values of secularism. But he is also aware of some deliberate distortions used to serve political ends.

“President Emmanuel Macron spoke of ‘Islamism’ but his words were translated into Arabic using the word ‘Islam,’” Djaiz said, referring to the French president’s remarks in response to the beaheading of teacher Samuel Paty.

As a result, some foreign politicians used these distorted words to sow confusion and to trigger protests and boycotts of French goods, he said.

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, has used this discourse in a very cynical way to satisfy his own political agenda,” Djaiz said.

The climate this has created in the wake of the Paris and Nice attacks has only served the interests of jihadist terrorism, which seeks to alienate French Muslims from the rest of the society, he added.

The solution may be multi-pronged. Beyond police and judicial operations to break up Islamist networks, Djaiz wants to see France adopt policies to promote civic friendship and the recognition of French values.

“Every child in this country, regardless of his denominational affiliation, must receive a positive education in the values of the republic and the principles that structure it, and first and foremost the principle of secularism,” he said.

This principle of secularism was conceived by the great figures of the Third Republic, among whom were Protestants, Freemasons and non-believers, to allow the peaceful coexistence of all denominational components of French society.

For a long time, this society was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, whose dogma influenced the state. But in a society that was becoming more pluralized and complex, republicans sought to separate church and state and allow a diversity of opinions and beliefs to express themselves peacefully.

“From this point of view, secularism is therefore a principle that must be particularly welcoming to Muslims, because it allows everyone to freely exercise their worship by being protected from the pressures of the group,” said Djaiz. This allows the individual to freely worship or to abandon their faith without consequence.  

“Secularism is not at all a revolver pointed at Islam as the Anglo-Saxon media alleges. On the contrary, secularism helps to protect all religious convictions,” said Djaiz.   

But is secularism actually working in reality? Djaiz believes the problem is a widespread misunderstanding of what it means. “This principle must be explained to young children and this task must be entrusted essentially to teachers and all front-line officials in this country,” he said.

“This pedagogy and explanation work has not been sufficiently done, allowing secularism to be considered as an aggressiveness towards Islam whereas this is totally false,” he said.

“But if we are still debating secularism today, a principle that should have been validated for several decades, it is because the republic indulged itself in laxity and laissez-faire and that the Muslims did not grasp this fight.”

Reaffirming the value of secularism must be made a priority, says Djaiz. To do this, a positive political project promoting the concept of civic friendship is essential.

“This political project must go beyond our particularisms and cannot be limited to the values of the republic,” he said. “We need a project that propels us and tells a new French story that remains largely to be invented.”

The importance of this “new narrative” is clearly spelled out in the findings of the Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey, which has uncovered a generational gap. A majority of young French people of Arab origin are much less enthusiastic about French institutions than their older counterparts.

According to the poll, younger people appear more keen on returning to the roots and origins of their parents and are less inclined to comply with French regulations.

Djaiz believes Muslim scholars and cultural leaders must play their part in undermining the more extreme interpretations of Islam and promoting openness. The views of French Muslims who condemn the protests and boycotts of French goods must also be promoted.

He is optimistic a new social contract can be established that will mend the worrisome rifts opening up in French society.

“We are now on the cusp of very great changes,” he said. “The challenge we are facing today is to establish a kind of new social contract in which every child of the republic will have a place so that no one is tempted by extremist and murderous ideologies.”