India China Border Dispute: Will the Asian Giants Come to Blows?


Two weeks ago, India's military officials accused China of moving into disputed territory near the countries' de facto border in the Himalayas and setting up camp six miles into Indian territory, resulting in a renewed border dispute between the two Asian neighbors.

Although Beijing and New Delhi have maintained that they do not want the disagreement to escalate and threaten their relationship, China's Foreign Ministry said last week that its troops "never trespassed the line," according to a Washington Post article

Now entering its third week, the standoff may threaten to disrupt new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Delhi later this month, a trip that promised to be a hopeful sign of change in relations between the two rivals.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, three rounds of "flag talks" between local military commanders and negotiations between the countries failed to resolve the situation so far. Indian officials have claimed that the Chinese unit has also been “reinforced and resupplied.” 

The border line separating China and India, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), has remained a source of conflict between the countries. It also resulted in a brief 1962 border war where Indian forces were defeated. 

Both governments are trying their best to downplay the dispute and prevent it from escalating further into armed conflict.

"China and India are wise and capable enough to handle the existing differences...while boosting friendly cooperation," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, according to a Christian Science Monitor article

Calling the incursion a "localized problem," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has maintained that talks are going on to resolve the problem and not "accentuate the situation."

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid described the conflict as “acne” that can be cured “by simply applying an ointment” on Thursday. Khurshid is also scheduled to leave for Beijing on May 9. 

India's governing Congress Party's political opponents, together with a growing number of political analysts and commentators, have criticized the government's response to the issue, calling them "cowardly, incompetent, and good for nothing."

While laced with tension, the long border has seen its fair share of similar disputes involving stealthy strategies. "Since the border has never been officially delineated, both sides have different perceptions of the Line of Actual Control and both sides send out patrols...some unexpected incidents are natural," said Lan Jianxue, an India expert at the China Institute of International Studies, in a CS Monitor article

While trade relations between the two countries have continued to blossom, border relations remain uncertain. As diplomatic negotiations continue between the Asian giants, each country'sapproach to the alleged incursion, whether passive or aggressive, could be the defining dynamic. The mutual failure to clearly demarcate the border could further delay a resolution and increase chances of similar conflicts in the future. 

Whether or not the situation will move towards armed conflict is still unclear. The potential to do so, however, is still looming. Still stinging from the 1962 war, many in India insist on a more aggressive stance to protect Indian interests. 

 "There is pressure on the Indian army to do something tit-for-tat," said Dr. Binod Singh, an Indian academic at Peking University’s South Asian Studies Center. "If that happens, who knows what kind of unfortunate event we might see."