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Managing the border with China | HT Editorial – Editorials


Soldiers involved in hostilities at three border points would be ominous in almost any context, except for India and China. Along the royal line of control, it could mean a growing confrontation that could spread to diplomatic and economic spheres. Or it could mean that another border incident has gotten a little out of control. The reasons for the escalation could be the ever-changing border infrastructure or a surge of blood from an individual soldier. If it’s the latter, one can expect the status quo to be restored, but after much muscle flexing.

The problem in Sino-Indian relations is that whether such incidents are motivated by geology or geopolitics is often unclear to either side. Much of the discussion at flag meetings at the official level or between diplomats in the twin capitals is about trying to determine at what level the wheels are spinning. That, in turn, goes to a much deeper issue of mistrust between India and China and opacity on the part of both governments, but with Beijing as the black box. The two countries now have four border management agreements, with a fifth in process. But with the construction of new roads, the deployment of better vehicles, and the strategic landscape that changes forever along the border, each agreement begins to become obsolete as soon as the ink dries.

India and Chinese troops meet face to face in the Galwan Valley, Finger 4 and Naku La. China’s “all-weather friend” Pakistan has raised temperatures along the Kashmir border. But at the same time, the People’s Bank of China license to invest in India has just been renewed. Beijing has ensured that emergency medical supplies are shipped, albeit with some quality control issues. In contrast to the rhetorical aggression that Beijing has shown to the west or Southeast Asia, China’s noises regarding India have been benign. This is all part of a longstanding dichotomy in Sino-Indian relations, very competitive with many elements of cooperation. However, with the change in the international strategic environment, this approximate and rapid way of handling bilateral relations must be replaced. The goal should be a framework where communication lines, strategic red lines, and dotted lines across maps are better delineated. This is a task for a generation, but it is essential for India and China to ensure that border outbreaks do not become something much larger and more dangerous.

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