Thursday, April 18, 2024
Thursday, April 18, 2024
Home » China-India border dispute is a ticking time bomb in regional politics

China-India border dispute is a ticking time bomb in regional politics

by Elis Carter
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This month’s violent clash between Chinese and Indian frontier troops at the eastern end of their disputed Himalayan border was disheartening.

More disturbing was the news that similar skirmishes have been occurring regularly, with both sides apparently trying to keep people in the dark to avoid stoking nationalist sentiment.

According to a report in The Telegraph last week, border clashes involving stones and canes are happening “every month” in Arunachal Pradesh – just like the December 9 encounter in the northeastern Indian state’s Tawang district, which China claims as part of south Tibet.

The Telegraph quoted an unnamed senior Indian Army officer who said these face-offs were happening “on average two or three times a month”, adding that there were “directions from the top not to discuss these incidents”.

The report also alleged that Chinese incursions had become more frequent in the past two years and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party “wants to play down the crisis with China”.

If true, the extent of the border incidents is deeply worrying and the alleged cover-ups are also unacceptable, if somewhat understandable.

The recurring cycle of tension and détente since their 1962 border war has seen Chinese and Indian troops clash intermittently in recent decades, but the top leaders usually intervened in good time to pull back their militaries and avoid a total breakdown in political ties.

But this is a bit different. The June 2020 border clash in eastern Ladakh – the deadliest in 50 years which left 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops dead – seems to have changed everything.

It is particularly true from India’s perspective. As Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, put it in a recent Foreign Affairs article, “China has lost India”.

Not only has New Delhi become more receptive to Washington’s presence in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific, it has also moved to reduce its economic dependence on China and become less concerned about Beijing’s sensitivities over Tibet, the Dalai Lama, Xinjiang and Taiwan.

But Beijing’s handling of the border crisis is perplexing. A prolonged border stand-off that could flare into an armed conflict with global implications should be the last thing China needs in the midst of its intensifying feud with the US, Japan and their Western allies.

It seems reasonable in these circumstances that Beijing should have done everything to avoid further antagonising Delhi and pushing it into Washington’s orbit. And yet there is little sign that China is willing to give in to India’s request for a de-escalation of border tensions so that their leadership-led relationship can return to normal.

When Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a surprise visit to Delhi in March – the first since the 2020 clash – in a bid to capitalise on India’s divide with the US over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – he failed to secure a meeting with Modi.

When President Xi Jinping and Modi attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan in September, they did not talk or even shake hands.

Although the pair finally exchanged pleasantries at the G20 summit in Bali last month, neither appeared in the mood to take the first substantive steps towards normalcy.

It begs the questions of what strategic calculations China is making, and whether – considering Beijing’s economic and military edge – it is in China’s interests to use the prolonged border dispute to bog India down.

Many in India appear to be convinced that Beijing increasingly views Delhi as an adversary and is using the border dispute to keep its Himalayan neighbour distracted in the jostling for regional supremacy.

“Beijing seems to believe keeping the border dispute alive costs India more than it costs China. I’m not so sure,” Jeff Smith, an expert at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Centre, said in a tweet last week.

Whatever the motives, the deepening trust deficit between the nuclear-armed Asian rivals has all but ensured that the protracted border stand-off is becoming a ticking time bomb in regional politics.

Source : SCMP

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