Renewed Tensions At The China-India Border

Fresh provocations emerged at the Sino-Indian Border in Ladakh on August 30, renewing concerns that hostilities will erupt between the two countries. The Himalayan border in dispute has long been a point of discontent between China and India. While an official border line had never been demarcated, the two sides had generally come to an agreement on maintaining peace and patrol. This was until the June confrontation earlier this year, which culminated in a deadly melee, killing 20 Indian soldiers and unknown number of Chinese troops.

With regard to the August stand-off, China asserted that the Indian Army had taken “pre-emptive action” against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). A spokesman for the Western Theatre Command of the PLA labelled the move as a display of “blatant provocation.” The Indian Defence Ministry has responded that China had in fact initiated the dispute by “carry[ing] out provocative military movements” around the border known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

It is believed that the source of the renewed tension is China’s desire to shift the territorial status quo in Ladakh. Under the dominant and nationalistic leadership of Prime Minister Modi, India is unlikely to agree to the new terms; however, there are fears that India will not have the military or economic power to enforce their position. Bharat Karnad, an Indian national security expert, has stated that it is “the PLA’s call” whether or not a Sino-Indian war will erupt.

There are fears that if the conflict is not resolved, and tensions build, India may end up fighting a two-front war against collusive military and nuclear allies Pakistan and China. Pakistan’s and China’s strategic and territorial interests with regard to India have coalesced in recent years and may lead to a joint collaborative declaration against India. Indian General Bipin Rawat has cautioned against reliance on the nuclear deterrence theory, warning that “credible (nuclear) deterrence does not take away the threat of (conventional) war.”

Between June and August this year, five rounds of Indian and Chinese military commander negotiations were undertaken. However, as suggested in the most recent August clash, the talks have done little to ease the tensions. No third country has yet emerged to mediate the conflict of interests. While the lack of progress from diplomatic talks between China and India may seem disheartening, former Foreign Secretary of India, Shyam Saran, has encouraged patience during these negotiations. He notes that there was a similar stand-off in 1987 between the Indian Army and the PLA, which took eight years of peace talks to finally resolve in 1995. It is still very much within the realm of possibility for a resolution to emerge. As it was stated by Al Jazeera reporter, Katrina Hu, in the Global Times, “there has been an acknowledgement from China that India is also an important neighbour – a lot of trade is done with India and they would like to maintain peace.”

Lucy Xu