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  • Jessica Adams

An Everlasting War: the China-India Border Conflict

The 2,200 mile border between China and India has been a topic of contention for decades. The conflict, known as the China-India border dispute, has been in existence for centuries but has come to a peak in the recent months. On September 7, both China and India accused the other of firing shots, and although no one was injured at that time, the same cannot be said for earlier in the summer. The long-standing dispute is reaching its peak, but the reasons are currently unknown about why. The facts of the conflict differ depending on which country is explaining the story. With a conflict that has been in existence for a long time and has stayed peaceful for 45 years, but is now on the rise, is there a resolution on the horizon? Many remain concerned that given China’s expansion efforts and rising tension between the two countries, a war may erupt on the border.

The root of this conflict lies in the history between the two countries and the fact that the lines of the China-India border have been barely defined. The border is constantly patrolled by troops from both countries, but the line of actual control is not definitive. Due to this uncertainty, there have been physical conflicts going back to 1962. In 1914, China, Simla (current India),mTibet and Britain gathered together to decide the borders between China and India. The border deal would allow Tibet to gain autonomy, even though they were under Chinese control. Additionally the deal created a border line named the “McMahon line,” named after the British Colonel Henry McMahon who proposed the border line. This deal was signed by Britain, Tibet, and India, however China refused based on its disapproval of Tibet gaining autonomy in the agreement. The New York Times explains “India maintains that the McMahon Line, a 550-mile frontier that extends through the Himalayas, is the official legal border between China and India. But China has never accepted it.”

Then, throughout the 1950s, both countries' populations were growing tremendously, and with more people, each wanted more space and control over the border. China was trying to expand its roadways, and India viewed this as China attempting to expand their Communist regime. With multiple failed peace negotiations, war broke out in 1962. The war occurred because China expanded across the McMahon line, and into known Indian territory. The Chinese military overtook multiple mountains and towns in India. India then responded militarily which created a war that lasted only a month, but a devastating month at that. The war resulted in 1,000 Indian deaths, and a maximum of 800 Chinese deaths. Additionally, 3,000 Indian civilians were taken prisoner by China. Not long after, in 1967, a second war emerged when Indian troops laid barbed wire along the border, and China fired their artillery, all in all resulting in 150 Indian deaths and 340 Chinese deaths.

This June, after half a century of peace, a dispute ended in 20 Indian deaths, after a two week long standoff in the Ladakh region. There are multiple reasons for this new standoff, and increasing tension. Both nations want to build more infrastructure along the border, and the Council on Foreign Relations says that “India's construction of a new road to a high-altitude air base is seen as one of the main triggers for” this violent dispute, and China viewed this recent construction as a challenge to both the status quo and to their current positions along the Actual Line of Control. There are also some longer standing tensions and events that combined to contribute to the recent standoff such as China feeling threatened by increased relations between India and US allies in Asia. Additionally, the Council on Foreign relations argues that one of the reasons for increased tension and fear is “the frank appraisal that India’s growing military imbalance with China, and China’s ‘political will’ to deploy its might under President Xi Jinping, is the real difference.”

Even more recently, on September 7th, both countries mutually agree that shots were fired across the border, even though mutual protocols prohibit use of firearms along the border. China and India, while agreeing shots were fired, disagree on the facts of how it occurred. Yet, both China and India appear to be looking forward to solutions, and the Chinese and Indian foreign minister agreed to de-escalate the conflict. However, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized in an address the day of the de-escalation agreement that “India wants peace. But on provocation, India will give a befitting reply.”

With no end in sight, the possibility of a long-lasting war seems more and more probable. AL Jazeera interviewed three political scientists and researchers respectively from India and China about the ongoing conflict and potential solutions. The panel consisted of Brahma Chellany, a professor of strategic studies at the Center of Policy Research, and former advisor to India's national security council living in New Delhi, India. Along with Adam Ni, a specialist on China's foreign policy and security issues living in Leipzig Germany, and Sumit Ganguly, a distinguished professor of political science at Indiana University. All three panelists claim that amidst a pandemic, the last thing each respective government would want is a war. However, this may be optimistic to believe everything that is being said. Instead, there should be more focus on the actual actions that are being taken, especially on the side of China. China has been using the pandemic as a time to be able to spread their power into new areas of the economy, as well as to new regions. It is plausible that China may want to take more land, and encroach further onto the China-India border. The key word, however, is “if.” The fragility of the border disputes seems to be a given in the relationship between China and India. Thus, the uncertainty surrounding the long standing prospect of war between these two countries seems to be the constant in this conflict.

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