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India- China border tension - Is it a sign of a war?.


India, was from the outset, very keen to build a trustworthy relationship with China, with whom it shares its boundaries in the North East Frontier, present Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Jammu Kashmir.

The Indian government, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru was very supportive of China being admitted to the UN Security Council as a permanent member. But this friendship got a blow when India decided to give asylum to the Dalai Lama of Tibet when a big revolt broke out there. Further, the Chinese aggression in 1962 made the situation worse. Both countries have never been able to reach a consensus on the border issues.

India and China have a total boundary of around 4,050 km, divided into three sectors. With 2,150 km of border in the Western sector, the two countries differ over the boundary line that separates Jammu and Kashmir from Xinjiang province in China. India accuses China of illegally occupying the Aksai Chin area and some other parts of Ladakh. The 1962 war saw a fierce fighting between the two forces here.

The Middle sector is a generally peaceful area. Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand share their borders with China in this sector. Further east, the 1,140 km boundary is contentious and is historically referred to as the McMahon Line, after Henry McMahon, the foreign secretary of British India and the chief negotiator of the 1914 Simla Convention. The Chinese do not accept this line as the legitimate boundary between India and China because the convention was signed by India and the Tibet, which the Chinese do not consider to be sovereign. China claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.

The latest cause of escalation of tension between the two powers came to light when China refused entry to around 50 pilgrims who were scheduled to travel to KailashMansarovar through the Nathu- La pass in Sikkim. The development comes amid strains in bilateral ties between India and China over a host of issues, including CPEC and India's NSG bid. Quoting official reports, China had bulldozed an old bunker of the Indian Army at the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China in Sikkim. China, on its part has alleged that Indian soldiers crossed into its territory to interfere with its construction activities. The incident took place in the Doklam tri-junction area, where India had earlier opposed to China building a road to Bhutan.

This recent stand-off is the longest border incident since the Sumdurong Chu crisis in 1987. The 2013 Depsang face-off and the 2014 stand-off at Chumar were both resolved diplomatically through on-the-ground meetings and those through the foreign ministries in Delhi and Beijing, with quiet diplomacy resulting in a simultaneous withdrawal. Both countries also have a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on border affairs that has so far helped to address border issues.

This is the first time that China is demanding an unconditional withdrawal of Indian troops as a precondition for diplomacy. With India and China appearing to prepare for a long-haul by sending in reinforcements, both sides have their guns down till now.

India's Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar has maintained that there is no cause for worry and that there have been similar situations in the past that have been well-handled. Former National Security Adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon says that the neighbours need a new strategic dialogue to recalibrate their relationship. This spat might also be the assertion of power in the neighbourhood. China has become belligerent and India has jumped in to fight for Bhutan's sovereignty. This has raised speculations about the new power politics that has gripped the region.

This is not a cause for worry for a full-fledged war. Both countries are nuclear powers. This will surely act as a deterrent. China should not expect the repetition of India's 1962 debacle. A war with India is not economically viable for China. Its economy is slowing down and there are internal disturbances. India has significantly strengthened its position in the region and beyond.

India's growing friendship with USA, their recent naval exercise in the Indian Ocean with Japan, and a favourable demographic dividend are reasons enough for China not to escalate tensions with India.

India has its share of weaknesses- a weak financial and tax structure and a developing infrastructure, but it has been sober in its responses to its Chinese counterparts. It has to be understood that even if there is a war between these neighbours, nobody wins a war of such magnitude, for surely there will be many other players who will jump in. Therefore, India might be a David to the Chinese Goliath, given the bonhomie and friendship that India shares with the other super-powers of the world. A war is best avoided.

-- R. Malavika