Commentary September 17, 2020

India and China are Taking New Risks Along Their Border

Will diplomacy help defuse the current tensions brewing along the India-China border? Arzan Tarapore analyzes why restoring peace between the two countries may prove difficult.
An Indian army soldier watches a fighter plane from a convoy of trucks in Gagangir, India.
An Indian army soldier watches fighter plane from a convoy of trucks in Gagangir, India. Yawar Nazir / Stringer, Getty Images

This analysis by Arzan Tarapore was originally published at The Monkey Cage by The Washington Post.


Last week, the India-China border standoff came the closest it has yet to war. As Taylor Fravel explained, the long-standing border dispute dates from the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The dispute came to a boil in May when a large force of Chinese soldiers crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the disputed border between the two countries since 1962. A deadly skirmish in June temporarily raised tensions, but it was the result of tragic happenstance rather than large and risky military maneuvers.

Tensions have escalated more seriously since late August because both sides have jostled for tactical advantage, creating incentives for each side to outflank or even fight the other.

Here’s where things stand in this crisis.

Aggressive tactical maneuvers led to rising tensions

A new phase of the four-month-long border crisis opened when Indian special forces quietly occupied several peaks in the mountainous Chushul sector of Ladakh during the night of Aug. 29-30. These peaks sit on India’s side of the LAC, just south of a divided lake — Pangong Tso — but had been left unoccupied in accordance with confidence-building agreements. They were the site of tenacious fighting in the 1962 border war and hold particular tactical significance because they overlook an important pathway through the mountains between India and China.

Occupying the high ground in Chushul was designed to prevent Chinese forces from establishing an even stronger position. India also may have calculated that it could negotiate a withdrawal from those tactically valuable peaks in return for a Chinese withdrawal from areas seized after May.

Tensions rose. Indian and Chinese troops also scrambled to secure high ground overlooking new Chinese fortifications on the north bank of Pangong Tso. They reinforced their positions with additional aircraft and armor and accused each other of firing the first gunshots on the LAC since 1975. Some Indian analysts warned that China might risk war to reverse India’s occupation of the Chushul peaks.

Continue reading Arzan's full analysis on Monkey Cage at The Washington Post >>

[Subscribe to our newsletters to get the latest commentary from APARC scholars.]

read more

A regiment of the Indian Army practices in dress uniform for Republic Day
Commentary

Rethinking the Defense Doctrine of India

The security threats India faces along its borders require new strategies, and in order to manage and prevent future risks, the military needs to overhaul its traditional playbook of deterring and defending against conventional attacks says Arzan Tarapore.
An Indian Army soldier looking through a military monocular over hills in the background
News

U.S. Policymakers Cannot Assume the Fixity of Indian Strategic Preferences, Argues South Asia Research Scholar Arzan Tarapore

In a special report published by the National Bureau of Asian Research, Tarapore analyzes possible scenarios for India’s strategic future that expose risks and tensions in current U.S. policy.