China and India: They’re the two most populous countries on Earth, and have the third and fifth most powerful militaries in the world. And now they’re at each other’s throats over disputed territories.
On August 15, along the disputed border between Tibet and Jammu and Kashmir, Chinese and Indian soldiers literally threw rocks at each other. So mature, guys. Here’s that video.
And in another disputed border region to the southeast, China and India have been in a more serious military stand-off.
It’s happening near the three-way border of China, India, and Bhutan.
Bhutan has less than a million citizens. Its army is so small, it relies on India for military support.
Now China and India have had their share of border disputes over the years. Most notably, in 1962, they actually fought a war over a disputed border.
But that was a different time, and in a different place.
This border dispute is actually happening… in Bhutan. Or in China, depending on which country you ask. But not in India.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has been building a road through part of Bhutan, or as the Chinese Communist Party calls it, part of Chinese territory since ancient times.
It’s hard to find accurate maps of this region online. Apparently those guys at Google Maps have more important things to do than try to correctly draw disputed border lines in far off lands.
The dispute seems to be happening somewhere in this region, part of the Doklam Plateau.
The thing is, while this is the map according to India and Bhutan and Google, the map according to China—and its Google knockoff, Baidu, is slightly different.
Bhutan was obviously more than a little miffed at the presence of Chinese troops in its territory. But from the Chinese Communist Party’s perspective, they simply sent the army in to build a road inside China.
That’s why China had a major problem when Indian soldiers tried to stop what the Chinese Defense Ministry called “the normal activity of the Chinese border defense troops.”
To be fair, for the Chinese regime, construction in disputed territory is normal activity.
But from India’s perspective, Bhutan asked India for help, so India sent in troops into Bhutan.
An initial scuffle happened on June 16. Now, both sides have stationed thousands of troops along the border—in what’s become a months-long stand-off. And neither side wants to back down.
So why is this a big deal for India, when the PLA is mainly just building roads in China/Bhutan?
Well, for over a decade, the Chinese Communist Party has been building roads deeper into Tibet. And not just to bring happiness and prosperity to the locals. The roads greatly speed up the Chinese regime’s ability to move troops through the region.
This narrow finger of Tibet borders India’s Sikkim region to the west, and Bhutan to the east. And it’s also of strategic importance.
According to Indian military experts speaking to the BBC, “Sikkim is the only area through which India could make an offensive response to a Chinese incursion, and the only stretch of the Himalayan frontier where Indian troops have a terrain and tactical advantage.”
Essentially, in the event of war, that would be the last good place for India to defend against a Chinese incursion.
And if the Chinese troops were to incur, well, the Siliguri Corridor (a.k.a. the chicken’s neck) is only half a day’s drive by highway.
So India may be imagining a possible war scenario where Chinese troops enter India through this disputed border region, and then occupy the Siliguri Corridor—cutting the chicken’s neck. That would separate the main part of India from its eight northeastern states.
Fortunately, this conflict hasn’t gotten out of control. No shots have been fired, as far as we know.
But China has been continually holding live fire drills in Tibet. Or as the Chinese military calls them, “war games.”
The military says they were merely to “[test] the brigade’s joint strike capability on plateaus.” You know, plateaus in general. Definitely not any particular plateau.
Meanwhile, the Indian government is preparing weapons for a short intense war. You know, a short intense war in general. Definitely not any particular short intense war.
And while it’s always nice to say no one wants war, this time it’s more complicated. Neither Chinese leader Xi Jinping nor Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants an actual full-scale war. But neither of them wants to back down, either.
India needs to show Bhutan it’s capable of supporting them. After all, Bhutan is India’s only neighbor that can be called a true ally against China.
But most importantly, neither Xi nor Modi can afford to look politically weak.
Modi will be up for Indian re-election in 2019 or possibly earlier. So politically, it can’t look like he’s caving in to China.
Xi Jinping doesn’t exactly face an election, but the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress is coming up in November. And he’s going to make some decisions there that are going to create political enemies. So Xi can’t afford to look like he’s caving to India.
And in particular, my favorite state-run media the Global Times is really pushing hard for war, telling India not to forget who won the last war; that things are going to escalate; and that China will kill everybody.
So both sides are grandstanding, and no one wants to back down. But you know who’s really to blame, according to the Global Times? That’s right, America.
Also any other country like Australia that calls for de-escalating the situation.
For now, though, nothing terrible has happened. But if shots are fired, and soldiers are killed, then they’ll be a lot of political pressure to respond with Global Times-style violence.