While most of the world has been focused on tensions between the United States and North Korea, another flash point is heating up on the India-China border.
On Tuesday Chinese and Indian soldiers were reportedly involved in an altercation in a disputed area of the western Himalayas. This latest action raises tensions between the two countries that have been in a standoff over another border dispute in the eastern Himalayas for the past two months.
Here’s what you should know about the border standoff:
What caused the standoff on the border?
On June 16, 2017, Chinese workers were building an unpaved road in an area claimed by both Bhutan and China. The area is located at a place where the borders of India, Bhutan, and China converge.
India responded by sending 270 armed Indian border troops and two bulldozers to obstruct the road-building. China claims the troops crossed about a football field’s length (100 meters) into Chinese territory. They are demanding the troops move back to the Indian side of the border.
If the area is claimed by both Bhutan and China, why is India involved?
From 1949 to 2007, Bhutan had a treaty that gave India authority to guide its diplomatic and defense affairs. This was replaced in 2007 by the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, which merely allows that “[n]either Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.” India has no direct reason to intervene, but as Prakash Nanda says, “Bhutan is just not an ordinary country for India. It is as important to India as North Korea is to China.”
India also believes intervention is necessary to put a check on China’s regional hegemony.
Who does the disputed area belong to?
Both sides seem to have a legitimate claim to the area. China says the area belongs to them, and bases its claim on an 1890 treaty they signed with Britain delimiting the boundary between the Tibet region of China and Sikkim. Bhutan says the area has always belonged to them, and bases the border claim on old maps and surveys.
Since 1984 there have been 24 rounds of China-Bhutan border negotiations, and the last one was in August 2016.
Could the dispute lead to war between India and China?
It’s possible, though not likely.
Tensions have escalated, but the violence has been minor. For example, this week Indian and Chinese soldiers in the western Himalayas yelled and hurled stones at each other, causing minor injuries on both sides. Prior to this incident, the worst that had happened was an “isolated slap or pushing between soldiers from the two sides,” reports Time magazine.
Despite such brawls, a diplomatic resolution is still expected. Jeff M. Smith, a scholar at the American Foreign Policy Council who studies Indian-Chinese relations, said a negotiated settlement was the likeliest outcome. However, when the New York Times asked whether he thought the standoff could spiral into war, he said, “Yes I do—and I don’t say that lightly.”
Smith added that the hardline messaging by both sides is similar to the rhetoric that came before the India-China War of 1962, which was also over border disputes.
Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
Photo Credit: In Ladakh near India-China Border. By Sisheer Philip, via Wikimedia Commons.