Can the Elephant and Dragon coexist?

The recent scuffle between India and China is not an isolated event but the real concern is that it is becoming a pattern. A few more questions that come to our mind are – Why is this happening now and could the tension trigger a military conflict?

The border dispute between India and China goes back decades and tension is on the rise again. Various reports coming out of the region by the Indian military suggest that in the first week of May Indian and Chinese soldiers got into fistfights and threw stones at each other in the Pangong Tso Lake and Nakula areas. Chinese State media also took notice of the incident and took an even more aggressive stance over the issue. 

The Chinese were convinced that Indian troops trespassed on Chinese territory and accuse them of trying to build defense facilities, but India’s government says its soldiers stayed on its side. One thing is clear that both sides are bolstering their presence in the region and it is pretty much evident as reported by an Australian security analyst who posted these satellite pictures on Twitter. The images appear to show both sides building more tents and Roads within five kilometers of the line of actual control or the LAC which separates the two countries. The diplomatic relations between India and China are deteriorating, but the recent events can be explained in the light of China’s financial, trade, political, territorial policies and not to forget the handling of the coronavirus.

What is happening right now?  

There’s always been a dispute between India and China, but in recent weeks it’s been intensifying between Chinese and the Indian soldiers who disagree over the last the line of control, because of this there have been constant reports of skirmishes and fistfights among the soldiers. Although no bullets have been fired yet, there is a real fear that these scuffles as they become more intense could lead to an all-out conflict. China and India share one of the world’s longest unmarked borders and events like these will not go unnoticed especially when the world is hooked on to the news more than ever.

Both the countries have territorial claims on more than three and a half thousand kilometers of land. In 1962 a month-long War ended without any resolution and there have been several standoffs since then. The most recent in 2017 a year later the Chinese and Indian diplomats held talks to maintain peace in the area.

Why now these flare-ups along this border? 

Today when the world battles the deadly coronavirus China and its leaders believe that the pandemic is an opportunity for China to expand its influence.

The Chinese president famously told in his speech, recently that

“Great steps in history have always emerged from The Crucible of major disasters.”

It’s just not the Indian border issue, but we see China expanding its influence by decimating Hong Kong’s local autonomy. China has also made questionable moves in the South China Sea including setting up two new administrative districts. The Chinese Coast Guard last month rammed into a Vietnamese fishing boat and sank everything. So what’s happening on the Indian frontier needs to be seen in the broader context in which China is advancing his expansionist agenda at a time when the world is grappling with the China originating pandemic.

China has more things to worry about

Both India and China are both have been heavily affected by the pandemic. It is a time when both the countries should be maintaining peace especially Beijing which has plenty of challenges to deal with in Hong Kong, the much needed economic recovery as well as its deteriorating relationship with the US which is taken a very confrontational term and just to name a few. So it won’t be wise to get into another confrontation but it appears the leaders in Beijing don’t want to appear weak. If this was to escalate especially at a time where the domestic public is anxious about China’s near-term future, we may see some sort of retaliation or a complete peace dialogue to be initiated.

Why it is happening now?

There are many factors at play here. The most possibly as to why China has taken a more assertive posture is because it wants to probe India’s capabilities and resolves along the border. This is something that has been going on for the last several years. These events can be traced back to 2014 when she Chinese President visited India and amid that visit, there were a series of incursions by the Chinese military. 

Part of the reason is the humiliation China has been experiencing by the Global Community as a result of its very opaque handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and at that moment also when India is sort of fitfully moving closer to the United States, and this is a message from Beijing saying that you know, we can create troubles for you along the border if you try to Cosy up to the United States. 

One thing is sure at play here, as a more hospitable environment has presented itself in the unforgiving terrain we see an increased activity up there. This Himalayan frontier is a very remote part of the world. But increasingly there are more infrastructure construction and Military infrastructure in the Border areas. Both Indians and the Chinese are developing these assets because it is easier to construct in warmer weather. There are just more border patrols along the region leading to more frictions between Frontline officers. A lot of them are resolved, but some of them undoubtedly could go out of control. 

Why this border issue is not being resolved?

China can well afford to have frequent clashes like these as India finds it hard to control the pandemic. But if you go back and see the pattern it is clear that every few years these clashed crop up after which both the countries go in for peace talks and China inch forward as if to show the world that they are too sly to be caught. 

After the 1962 war, there was a clash in 1967 and again in 1986 and the1967 and 1986 clashes were quite significant and till date, there have been 20 rounds of peace talks but attempts to settle the border dispute has been glacial because the Chinese are not especially forthcoming in terms of what they deemed to be is the appropriate border.

Are the standoffs in this region for asserting dominance or does the region has strategic importance? 

The Himalayas are of strategic value both to China and to India. There are some areas, for example, the Sikkim Tibet border where the international border is mutually recognized and yet in recent weeks we have seen tensions flare-up even along that internationally recognized border. 

There’s another sector the middle sector of the India China Frontier where the two sides have exchanged math with each other showing their claim lines. In the Himalayas, they try to grab a vantage point that helps in overlooking enemy positions. Having a vantage point has military importance and helps strategize against enemy moves.  

What is the wolf Warrior diplomacy?

In recent times China has engaged in what they are referring to as wolf Warrior diplomacy. They are very aggressive in their stance and will do anything to evade issues. For example, their expansive claims in the South China Sea. No one confronted them and gradually they are taking control of the region. 

Right now it seems they are asserting themselves in a range of areas and trying to divert attention away from the COVID-19 issue in which they are culpable.

Once again they are likely to succeed in undoing Hong Kong’s autonomy without facing any International consequences, then one can be sure that China might just address the issue of Indian Frontier into a zone of perineal conflict. It is a pattern that they are employing everywhere. 

Can a state of co-existence be achieved? 

India has plenty to worry about. A rising China, one that’s more assertive and expansionist at the same time. However, India and China have a lot of common interests, they’re both rising powers, and competing with each other can be detrimental to both. A state of co-existence can be achieved is both cooperate and try to uplift each other.

But some issues are coming in the way of this co-existence:

  • India is coming in the way of China in Asia to dominate the whole continent.
  • India is growing closeness with the United States worries the Chinese because on its own India cannot do very much because of the sheer disparities of power in several different material Realms, whether it’s economics, military par or even diplomatic prowess, but if India successfully manages to build a set of strategic relationships with say the United States or maybe Japan then India becomes a much more formidable rival and this is something that the Chinese do not want to countenance.
  • India also has the power to become the next hub for manufacturing and IT as the world wants to boycott China and its products
  • The Chinese leadership has made promises back home to its people and they certainly do not want to fail after coming this far

Eventually, China might back off because it cannot risk too many confrontations at once, but one thing is clear these border disputes won’t stop. India will have to keep this threat in mind and nurture ties with more powerful allies that can help stand up against a relentless dragon.

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