Rise in Sino-India Border Tensions

Tempers flare along disputed areas . . .

There have been multiple military clashes along the disputed border between China and India throughout the month of May. While no shots have been fired, soldiers from both sides have hurled stones at each other and engaged in fistfights. While diplomacy between Beijing and New Delhi is ongoing, recent actions taken by both armies indicate they could be preparing for a lengthy standoff. Satellite imagery has revealed Chinese military deployments in four locations along the shared border in the Ladakh region, actions that have been matched by the Indian military.

What explains the recent clashes?

China and India share a 4,056 km-long border that is strewn with areas claimed by both sides. But in 1962, Beijing and New Delhi agreed to a cease-fire that was reinforced by a 1993 bilateral agreement to which both countries ‘’agreed to disagree’’ on the exact border demarcation. In the past, both countries’ soldiers have clashed on occasion, but then usually disengaged quietly. However, in 2017, there was a two-month standoff over the construction of a road on the contested Doklam Plateau. Since then, militarized incidents have become more frequent, peaking in 2019. Economic and strategic considerations helped keep earlier dust-ups in check, since both China and India have wanted a stable external environment to promote domestic economic development. These basic motivations have not changed, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak, leaving experts puzzled as to why these tensions are rising now.

What might come next . . .

Although Washington has historically been fairly quiet on the issue of the Sino-India border dispute, the U.S. current government added fuel to the fire by declaring that the recent tensions serve as a reminder to the world of the “threat” posed by Beijing - remarks slammed by China as “nonsense” - and encouraged India to resist alleged Chinese encroachments. While past tensions over the contested border were resolved peacefully, there are worries that the U.S.'s interest in the region and its tensions with China may further escalate the current situation beyond the usual border conflict. This could potentially obstruct cooperative behaviour between India and China and jeopardize a diplomatic resolution of the current standoff.