A Problem Re-Ignited in a Chaotic Era: Tension at China-India Border

2020 has been a rough year, COVID-19 being a major contributor. The outburst of the pandemic restricted most human activities and thus caused a global stagnation of the development. The global economy suffers much and it is highly likely that the world will experience another depression. In such a period with limited physical mobility and financial freedom, an ideal political status is that countries cooperate to overcome the disaster. However, the reality is just the opposite. Many frozen or temporarily eased political issues have become problematic again, the China-India conflict being one of them.  

The conflict between the two countries can be traced back to 1962 when a brief war occurred. Peace remained for about half a century. However, there have been four standoffs since 2013. The relationship between China and India severely worsened this year. Earlier in May, China and India fell into disputes because China objected to Indian road construction along the border. There were continuous frictions afterward, and the atmosphere between the two countries stays tense. 

The relationship between China and India suddenly fell to the freezing point on June 15, when a sudden skirmish took place. Casualties of China in this skirmish were unclear, while 20 Indian soldiers were killed with 17 more severely injured and later declared dead. The outburst of the conflict was unpredicted, and it is an indication that the agreement between China and India almost sixty years ago can break at any time.

On August 31, India initiated a standoff at its border with China due to its “provoking action.” On the other side, China officials condemned India for violating its territorial sovereignty and intervening in the previous deals between the two countries. It is not the first conflict at this border.

The turbulence within a country can stir insecurities, and the condition of China is unsettling. Hong Kong and Taiwan constantly revolt for their autonomy. The fire was started by a series of violent protests in Hong Kong starting in March of last year and has not fully blown over even after the passing of the Hong Kong National Security Law. The Taiwan government also advocates for separating from the Chinese Central Government. 

The instability is not only within China, but also at its border. China has long been bothered by the disputes in the South Sea related to territorial sovereignty with Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. China is thus fully guarded towards all rustlings at its borders. India initiating disputes at this moment lead to a higher level of vigilance by the Chinese military.

Except for the intensifying sovereignty matters mentioned, China is now in another epic war — the China-US Trade War. In 2018, President Trump initiated the conflict by setting trade barriers on China. The relationship between the two countries has been deteriorating ever since. The trade war started as an economic conflict and later evolved into a comprehensive political confrontation.

Meanwhile, the enmity towards China has quickly expanded to the rest of the world. The anti-China practice has become a global trend. India is not the only country that has border issues with China. As mentioned above, the South Sea disputes have been a headache of the China Central Government for a long time. Technology is also an aspect that is heavily targeted. Many countries have reacted to the 5G plan of Huawei; Bytedance is also under attack because of Tiktok, the international version of its social media platform Douyin.

While Chinese international relations conditions are not optimistic, the other participant of the conflict, India, has entered a partnership with the United States, China’s biggest opponent. According to the US government, “the United States and India have shared interests in promoting global security, stability, and economic prosperity through trade, investment, and connectivity.” 

India has been a defense partner of the US since the Obama presidency; during President Trump’s first visit to India earlier in February, two countries reached an agreement on India purchasing US military equipment. Following the suppression of Chinese technology firms by the US, India has banned the use of over two hundred Chinese applications, claiming their violation of Indian sovereignty.

The US government mentioned that they are monitoring the force at the China-India border when they sent condolences to the deceased Indian soldiers in the June 15 skirmish. If India believes that its cooperation with the United States would ensure an advantageous position in the bargain of border conflicts with China, its initiation of the conflict can be more reasonable.

Although the two countries reached an agreement to disengage troops after Ministers of Foreign Affairs of both countries met in Moscow, the tension between the two countries is not expected to subside. No clear definition and specification regarding border issues have been given. The two countries are still discussing and negotiating on achieving an agreement on remaining problems. Both countries are deeply entangled in major global affairs, and it makes the future development of their relationship more unpredictable.

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