China and India have agreed to de-escalate a tense border stand-off between the two countries that, for a time, looked on its way to actual armed conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
For 70 days Indian and Chinese troops faced off on a plateau in the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan, but this week suddenly decided to call it off. The tense stand-off began after Chinese troops defending a highway project on the Doklam Plateau were suddenly faced by Indian counterparts called by Bhutan for help.
“The standoff has ended without resolving the dispute over the Doklam plateau,” says Brahma Chellaney, strategic studies professor at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.
China, as it has done often as it spreads across the South China Sea, claimed the area as its own, citing a late 19th-century agreement forged with England. Beijing said that previous Indian agreements had agreed to abide by. India, obviously, saw things differently.
Why it’s on our radar: Anytime a pair of nuclear-armed great powers are staring each other down, it’s important. But simmering animosity between China and India has long-term strategic implications, mostly because this issue hasn’t really been resolved, it’s just been put on hold. Chinese President Xi Jinping is preparing to host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week at the BRICS Summit. Beyond that, Xi is up for ‘reappointment’ by the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party for another five-year term; a messy foreign policy issue could endanger that.
So for now, the issue will be put on the back burner. But China won’t let it go, and India should not expect Beijing to back away permanently. Besides this latest dust-up, both countries harbor angst over at least two other border regions, each controlling one of them.
And let’s never forget that India bristles over China’s ongoing support for, and good relations with, arch-enemy Pakistan. That said, India getting much closer to the U.S., shoudl it happen, negates some of its disadvantages with China.