Indo-Chinese border disputes and its latest escalation

Indo-Chinese border disputes and its latest escalation

On June 15th, 2020 an incident occurred in the disputed Ladakh area. Although there was no gunfire, 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers were killed. The Chinese spokesman Zhao Lijian claimed Indian troops crossed the border twice, „provoking and attacking Chinese personnel” while Indian media repeatedly reported Chinese soldiers entering Indian territory.

The Indo-Chinese border, or “Line of Actual Control”, is among the longest borders in the world. Certain parts of the border have been subject to dispute between the two most populous countries in the world. The root lies in 1914 when a border was determined by the British Empire without the consent of the Republic of China.

The area is strategically, economically and militarily important to both India and China. The two nuclear powers have a long history of border disputes with a total of eleven territorial disputes today. In 1962, a brief war erupted as a result of several violent incidents and lasted for a month, leaving thousands of soldiers dead or imprisoned. Now, there are thousands of troops on each side, but there have been no casualties since 1967.

In August of 2019, the Indian parliament decided to end the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and reconstitute Ladakh to a union territory. These actions were criticized as an affront to Chinese territorial integrity as both India and China claim parts of the area. Increased road construction work by India in the region added fuel to the fire. Similarly, China expanded its work on new infrastructure and deployed more troops, which was consequently criticized by India. Now, both side’s forces are in close proximity and the risk of confrontation is high.

India faces an increasing imbalance of military means compared to the Chinese military which dominates in most criteria. Also, closer relations between India and the United States anger China as the two countries share rather anti-Chinese views. Likewise, China actively expands relations with Pakistan, sharing anti-Indian views.

All this poses the question, whether and how the Indo-Chinese border conflict will proceed. The war in 1962 was preceded by similar tensions and incidents. The two countries have remained cautious for a long time; however, the conflict potential is immense. China claims about 90.000 square kilometres currently controlled by India. Several attempts to resolve the conflict have not shown significant success. More conflict would have significant consequences for regional security. Both the Chinese and Indian governments will not accept a shift of the border to their disadvantage.

However, both the Chinese and the Indian government have announced their intention to defuse the situation and maintain peace in the disputed areas. The two countries maintain substantial multilateral cooperation, e.g. through BRICS, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Especially at a time of economic decline and the Covid-19 pandemic, non-military actions are more likely options for both conflict partners.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of IFAIR e.V. or its members.

Former volunteer at the Vietnamese-German University (VGU).