Will The Sino-Indian Standoff Become A War?


Tension between China and India have escalated last week since the Chinese government’s decision to build a road running through the Doklam Plateau, which is unmarked territory between Bhutan and China.

India views this action as a geopolitical threat to the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction. Although Indian troops trespassed the Chinese border, China has not forcefully removed Indian troops yet. China’s been exercising military drills and accusing India of violating the treaty signed by British and China in 1890.

Both China and India have positional and spatial disputes since 1951. According to Manjeet S. Pardesi’s image of strategic rivalries, the reason of Sino-Indian conflict is due to the image change during the early 1950s. Before 1951, India viewed China as a diplomatic partner, but after China invaded Tibet, India shifted the image of China as a hegemonic power. China’s perspective is that due to the Eight Nation Alliance humiliation of China in 1900, China has always regarded India negatively.

The current ongoing confrontation between China and India has occurred in the past. In 1962, there was an armed conflict between the both countries because of territorial claim. After the independence of India, the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, implemented the “Great Indian Confederation” plan. This plan resulted in the instigation of Tibet’s independence in 1947. Nehru also had a map of Asia that excluded Tibet from China’s territory, which resulted in protests. In the same year, the Indian Provisional Government also proposed a memorandum to Tibet which stated: “inherit and maintain the British privileges and interests in Tibet”.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Nehru government has prevented the Tibetan authorities from discussing the issue of peaceful liberation in Beijing. When the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet, the Indian Embassy in China told reporters from the Chinese government: “The invasion of the Chinese army had to be considered sad.”

In addition, India armed Tibetan forces to prevent the PLA from entering Tibetan land. In 1951, the Indian army occupied Tawang area, which was under the Tibetan local government’s administration. The Indian government not only refused to withdraw from the occupation of Chinese land, but strived to expand territory.

Since then, the Indian government supported the reactionary serf leader in Tibet and publicly denied China’s sovereignty over Tibet. Nehru accused China of “failing to comply with the agreement between Tibet and China in the autonomous region and the assurances given to India.” The failure of the Tibetan insurrection made Nehru’s plan for the delusion of India’s strategic buffer, but the Great Indian Confederation was still on in his mind.

He proposed to the Chinese government that the controversial 125,000 square kilometers of land should be placed in India. For that reason, Sino-Indian relations immediately deteriorated. Nehru completely blocked the Chinese government to prevent the border conflict and insisted on the implementation of the “forward policy”, which would continue to encroach on Chinese territory. In 1962, Nehru issued an order to “drive the Chinese army out”, which caused the Sino-Indian border war. The war ended in 1962 after a ceasefire was called by the Chinese government.

Although India and China are working to improve their relations, their relationship remains fragile. Both countries still have issues regarding border disputes, the exiled Dalai Lama, Tibet, natural resources, Pakistan, and more.

Despite endeavors, the ongoing standoff over Doklam started about a month ago. The reason for this standoff is due to road construction; however, the infrastructure construction has been happening for more than a decade and India has not showed dissatisfaction. Bhutan has pulled India into this conflict because of India’s security arrangement with Bhutan, so India was forced to send troops to help stop the Chinese army.

Although India did not protest to China about the Doklam Plateau, it is not deniable that Doklam is close to the Siliguri Corridor, which is a narrow strip of land that is important to India for strategic purposes. Due to the road construction, it is thought that China might have stronger control over the Siliguri Corridor.

That said, will China or India make a drastic move and instigate a war? I think it’s not rational and wise enough to take this risk. In India’s perspective, democratic states are unlikely to trigger a war, and also it’s important to consider that India next election is in 2019. Whether this war will be short or long, there will be destructive damage to India. In China’s perspective, President Xi is centralizing his power to prove to the world that China can be trusted, so he is less likely to ruin his own efforts. Another question is who will pull back their troops first? All in all, it is unlikely this confrontation will lead to a war because both governments demonstrated intentions to solve the issue through conversation. It’s important to note that neither country will benefit from a war. Moreover, the U.S. has considered interfering, but it’s impossible for China to give up defending its territory and allowing U.S. presence.

China and India are two rising powers in Asia and the world. It’s foreseeable that both countries will have disputes, but a war between the two is unlikely. Also, both countries have large populations and rapidly growing economies, so neither of them can avoid the devastating consequences if a war is to start. States are considered rational players. As neighbors and important trading partners, China and India must take careful consideration before they take the next move.

Jieruo Li
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