Home » Tensions flare up again between India and China, two nuclear powers – Pierre Haski

Tensions flare up again between India and China, two nuclear powers – Pierre Haski

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Tensions flare up again between India and China, two nuclear powers – Pierre Haski

December 14, 2022 10:15 am

When an incident occurs on the border between two countries with a combined population of nearly three billion, both nuclear-armed and old-fashioned rivalries, caution must be exercised. Even when the toll is only a few minor injuries.

This is what happened on December 9 in the Himalayan mountains, at a point of contact along the 3,488 km border between China and India. Versions of events differ: on December 13, the Indian defense minister accused hundreds of Chinese soldiers of having crossed the border to attack an Indian garrison. Beijing, on the other hand, claims that it was the Indians who blocked the passage of a Chinese patrol.

The two armies respect an old agreement that forbids soldiers at the border from carrying firearms, which has severely limited the toll of the incident. A short video released in India shows Indian soldiers repelling the Chinese with sticks, a surprising scene for super-equipped military powers.

Since then, calm seems to have returned, but the incident shows that the situation has not been resolved after the much more serious border clash in June 2020, which had caused dozens of deaths.

An old border conflict has pitted China and India for decades, even provoking war in 1962. Since then, a temporary border has been established, called the “effective line of control”, pending an agreement that never comes.

The most striking aspect of these new tensions is that the war in Ukraine has changed the situation

But the rivalry between these two Asian giants is more global. The two countries fail to overcome mutual distrust despite several attempts. In 2019, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi were photographed in casual attire in sumptuous surroundings to showcase the understanding between the two countries. But the following year, their respective armies faced each other and the climate of the Cold War suddenly returned to Asia.

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The most striking aspect of these new tensions is that the war in Ukraine has changed the situation. India has refused to condemn Russia, an old Soviet-era ally and major supplier of weapons and hydrocarbons. In this sense, New Delhi has aligned itself with China, Russia’s main strategic partner with respect to the United States. But the line between friends and enemies is not so clear.

India seems determined to play its cards. The Indian government sees itself as leading an emerging power, whereas China has now become a superpower, with its positives and negatives. New Delhi is trying to attract investors scared by the Chinese political environment. Like Apple, which has set up a second industrial base in India.

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India sees itself as an autonomous regional power, capable of being allied with the United States in the framework of the Quad with Japan and Australia to oppose China but also able to say “no” to the Americans on Russia.

This autonomy has always been hampered by rivalry with China, by the privileged relationship between Beijing and its feared Pakistani neighbor and by an increasingly tense Asian geopolitical context. What the repeating incidents along the border teach us is that if one day India were to choose sides in an eventual Asian polarization, it would not be on China’s side.

(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)

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