There’s hope the dispute may be resolved soon as India and China have yet to pull troops and the border standoff between the countries in the Himalayas is now going on three months.
As a precondition for formal talks, China has insisted that India first remove its troops. But back-channel dialogue already appears to be underway.
“There are some indications that the two (India and China) are engaged in back-channel dialogue and negotiations to try to resolve this,” said Jeff Smith, director of Asian security programs at the American Foreign Policy Council, a Washington-based conservative think tank.
While India and China have little reason to go to war today, but that’s exactly what happened in the 1960s. Since the costs for both sides could be high, a full-blown war today seems very unlikely, experts insist since the costs for both sides could be high.
“This is serious, going by how aggressive and vulgar the statements are coming out of the Chinese,” said veteran Indian diplomat Neelam Deo, director of Gateway House, a Mumbai-based foreign policy think tank. “Nothing can be ruled out, but chances are not high of a real military conflict.”
The border dispute so far has been limited to soldiers going after each other throwing punches or stones, said Deo, a former Indian ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast.
“We haven’t had a shooting war in a long time with China,” she said.
A plateau area known as Doklam in the western Himalayas is at the center of the present standoff. When Chinese troops in June reportedly tried to build a road in territory claimed by Bhutan, an ally of India, the standoff started. India blocked soldiers from China, which has territorial claims to Doklam and brought in its own bulldozers to build a military road.
More than 270 Indian troops that crossed into the disputed area and China has been urging India to withdraw them.
India was accused of “insincerity and self-contradictions in resolving the Sino-India border issue peacefully” by China’s official news agency, Xinhua, in an op-ed on Friday.
When it released a propaganda video that mocked India’s Sikh community. Xinhua stirred up controversy last week. Indian papers charged that the video was “racist”.
The outbursts by China’s official media outlets were unusual because they typically are “more restrained”, said Smith, author of the 2014 book “Cold Peace: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the 21st Century”. Becoming “quite outspoken, nationalistic and confrontational”, nonofficial media in China also weighed in, he said.
The U.S. State Department has been urging both sides to “work together to try to come up with some better sort of arrangement for peace.”
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said that India, the world’s largest democracy, was also “a key security and economic partner of the United States” while he gave a national address in which he discussed Afghanistan and South Asia strategy.
Defense analysts say that India would probably come up short in conventional military power in a conflict with China even though it is a nuclear power.
If there were a wider conflict, it’s uncertain if the U.S. would get involved militarily to help India.
Especially given it wants help resolving the North Korean nuclear threat, the Trump administration might want to steer clear of upsetting Beijing, experts say.
The Pentagon didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“The U.S. reaction would depend very much on the exact circumstances,” said Smith. He said that whether it’s contained to the disputed area or spilling over into Indian territory, where it’s taking place and who initiated the conflict, were factors that would matter among others.
By offering money to Bhutan, which is roughly the size of Switzerland, Beijing has reportedly tried to resolve the dispute.
“China values peace and the interests of innocent people on both sides of the border, that is why it has remained patient in the face of such encroachment,” said Xinhua. “China has never made the first move in wars fought since 1949 but it would not flinch if a war were to be inflicted upon its people.”
(Adapted from CNBC)