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5 possible outcomes of the China-India border dispute

China and India leaders shaking hands on a deal agreement

The current border dispute between China and India centred around the tri-junction of the borders of India, Bhutan and China in an area India calls Doklam and China calls Donglang, is showing no signs of being resolved.

China has once again blasted India for literally refusing to budge on the issue.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry has most recently stated,

“Over one month has passed since the outbreak of the incident. The Indian border troops still illegally stay in the Chinese territory. Moreover, the Indian side is building roads, hoarding supplies and deploying a large number of armed forces on the Indian side of the boundary”.

China continues to accuse India of provocative measures that work against the interests of peace. China furthermore accuses India of using the excuse of supposedly aiding the small state of Bhutan when in reality, India simply seeks to encroach on what Beijing views as sovereign Chinese land. While in the 1950s, India and China settled disputes over the poorly written 1890 border agreement between China and British colonial India, Bhutan was not a party to the treaty and therefore the so-called ‘Bhutan excuse’ has become India’s justification for encroaching on what China claims as its territory, territory India prefers to consider part of the pro-India Bhutanese state.

India has thus far refused to engage in dialogue nor has India agreed to a withdrawal of troops from the disputed region, which is China’s major prerequisite for peace talks.

Due to the intransigence of the situation. Here are possible outcomes to consider.

1. India eventually withdraws and returns to dialogue

This is by far the best possible scenario for all sides involved and it is luckily a realistic one. India and China have mechanisms in place to settle such disputes without resorting to a standoff. As mutual members of both the BRICS economic cooperation union as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), India and China could both rely on these bodies to provide a peaceful solution to the current tensions. In particular, the SCO is in many ways tailor made as the best possible organisation through which to resolve the crisis.

Such organisations did not exist during China and India’s short border war in 1962. Furthermore, in 1962, China and the Soviet Union were rivals where today Russia is an ally to both China and India. As a fellow member of both the BRICS and SCO, Russia could act as a third party mediator in the conflict as Moscow is respected by both sides and has in Syria, proved successful negotiation skills between generally adverse parties. Russia brought Turkey and Iran to the same peace table in Astana and also reached a situation where representatives of the secular Syrian government sat across the room from jihadist terrorists that the west calls ‘moderate’.

There is some hope that perhaps China and India could even solve the dispute bilaterally. In 2014, shortly after the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office and shortly before a scheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two countries engaged in a protracted stand-off in the Ladakh region. India eventually stepped down while Modi claimed a kind of moral victory before his Hindutva base for “standing up” to China.

The current dispute could end in this way with India backing off of the dispute while Modi and his followers simultaneously play the role of victim and hero, an odd combination that is increasingly the narrative in Modi’s India. The only analogous political narrative in the world is the Israeli propaganda known in Tel Aviv as Hasbara.

In spite of such a politically awkward narrative, if this brings peace, it is still the best possible outcome.

2. War 

In 1962, China and India fought a short but fully fledged border war in which China won a resounding victory. In 1987, both countries engaged in what is generally called a ‘skirmish’ in which both sides claimed a kind of victory.

If the tensions do not die down quickly, there is a chance for war. Many Chinese commentators have soberly and regretfully remarked that such a thing is possible even though China has made it clear that it is not an option that China considers to be a pleasant one.

The following video from China, made for an international, but particularly an Indian audience, makes it clear that China sees the conflict as one where Indian chauvinism is something of a post-colonial holdover whereby Indian ultra-nationalists have adopted much of the language and legal positions of their former European colonial masters.

China seeks Asian unity and continues to seek India’s participation in the One Belt–One Road initiative that could not only turn China and India’s relationship into one based on mutual prosperity but could also help to ease long-term tensions between Pakistan and India as Islamabad is an eager participant in One Belt–One Road.

War remains on the Chinese table but only as a regrettable last resort.

3. Trade war 

India has already made it clear that they see their so-called North-South trade corridor as an alternative to One Belt–One Road where in reality it would function best as an integral tributary of the Chinese belt and road.

As I wrote only yesterday in The Duran, in respect of India’s attempt to build a rival to One Belt–One road,

“As with many of the self-styled ‘big ideas’ coming out of  Modi’s India, the problem is not so much that the ideas are bad but rather that the ‘big ideas’ are rather quite limited and limiting. While China’s One Belt–One Road is literally a global land and sea super-highway, India’s North-South corridor is by comparison a small, however important roundabout.

This is proof positive that India would only benefit by linking its own ambitious infrastructure and trade projects with the larger one being built by China and her partners. In a competition between a set of important regions and the wider world, the latter will always be more vital and more attractive to potential partners.

This is why if India cooperated with Russia, India could make the most of its own ambitions while reaping the benefits afforded to all nations, but particularly to large nations which are part of One Belt–One Road.

If India insists on sitting out of One Belt–One Road, the road will simply circumvent India via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, thus affording increased benefits to India’s regional rival that could otherwise be distributed across South Asia.

India is only selling itself short by trying to sell the world an alternative to One Belt–One Road. In this sense, One Belt–One Road can function without India, but India cannot function at its optimum potential outside of One Belt–One Road”.

India, fearing she could lose another war to China might prefer to wage a kind of trade war which doubles as a cold war. While this might sound ridiculous as both states have mutual allies, mutual interests and are both members of the BRICS and SCO, if India continues its stance as a kind of unwilling outlier to One Belt–One Road, the reality is that the short term embarrassment of losing a hot war to China would merely be replaced by the more long term embarrassment of losing out in participating in the most ambitious Asia-centric trading initiative of the modern age.

The only silver lining to such a scenario is that so long as no blood is shed, there is at least some possibility for a future generation of Indian leaders to correct the short sighted attitude of the Modi government.

4. US proxy war leading to WWIII

Luckily, this is among the least likely scenario, but due to America’s erratic behaviour in areas close to China, including the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Korean peninsula, it is not a scenario that can be entirely ruled out.

Under Modi, India has begun buying overpriced weapons from the United States. The US under Donald Trump is enjoying counting the money (he more or less said so at a press conference with Modi) while India has convinced itself that the US is now a fully fledged military ally, as though forgetting that throughout the Cold War, the opposite was the case in many respects and that the current US policy on South Asia remains confused as Washington has not fully adjusted to the post-Cold War realities of the region.

However, now that the US has shown its cards in respect of using the Korean crisis in order to distract China from One Belt-One Road and to provoke China on the Chinese doorstep to which the US has the greatest access due to its relationship with Seoul, the US could potentially make a decision laden with both hubris and foolishness and seek to send so-called ‘peace keeping troops’ to the foreboding Himalayas.

READ MORE: America uses North Korea as a transparent excuse for meddling in South Korea and provoking China

If America did this, it would be seen as the most provocative measure against China since the hot phase of the Korean War. If the hypothetical US troops strayed into Chinese territory, it could lead to a war between super-powers with the added element of India being a nuclear armed state.

This scenario would not only be dangerous but it is one that without resorting to the deployment of nuclear weapons, the US could not win. The US has little experience in fighting mountainous conflicts and judging by the difficulties the US had in securing the Tora Bora in Afghanistan, it would be very ugly indeed.

One ought to hope that the US is not as stupid as it looks, in this respect.

5. The United Nations Security Council 

In an ideal world, there would be no better place to peacefully thrash out a resolution to the conflict than the United Nations Security Council. However, given the UNSC’s composition, such an attempt would only unnecessarily magnify the current geo-political alignments which have contributed to the crisis in the first place.

As China is a permanent member of the UNSC, China would obviously vote in favour of the well known Chinese position. Russia would of course try to do from the UN what it would otherwise most likely do if invited as a third party mediator in a bilateral discussion between Beijing and New Delhi. However, forcing Russia to abstain on a vote in a dispute between two Russian allies is an awkward situation that Russia doesn’t need. In this sense Russia would prefer to act as a friend of both India and China in a situation where Russia wouldn’t be forced to publicly vote for one side versus the other.

The US and its UNSC allies Britain and France would almost certainly make matters worse due to a combination of former colonial arrogance and America’s capacity to work against China at any given opportunity.

In this sense, while the UN might seem like an ideal place to settle the dispute, in reality, it would only magnify tensions.

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