India’s neighbors consider China as an important regional major power that can contain India’s regional military, economic, and political ascendancy and be a source of security and strategic stability in the region. Thus, the Sino-Indian conflict has divided the world into these three regional schools of thought that consider different security implications for South Asia.
China has only rarely had a conflict with India since their border standoff in 1962. In 2020, we witnessed a transformation in that. Starting from May 2020, the military forces of China and India have remained mobilized along their disputed borderlands of the Line of Actual Control—which is a border that the two countries drew in the aftermath of the 1962 border skirmishes. During that conflict, the soldiers from both countries got engaged in a quarrel that led the soldiers to use clubs, rods, and punches against the soldiers of the enemy force. Many soldiers on the Indian side were injured—according to some reports they were more or less twenty—and some of the Chinese soldiers also got injured. According to the latest reports, a regiment commander of the Chinese PLA (People of Liberation Army) was made the torchbearer of their torch march during the Beijing Olympics held earlier in 2022. This shows that the Chinese soldiers were also severely injured during the squabble on the border.
From the 2020 clashes, several different sets of interpretations have emerged. These differences can be classified into three separate groups. There is this one school of thought, especially in China and also elsewhere, that suggests that China’s military action against India was only for defensive purposes and it was only an outcome of what India was doing in the disputed territories. Since August 2019, India had made unilateral changes in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir and separated the region into three different sections, Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. Ladakh’s territory is disputed by China to be its own. Beijing took serious note of it and considered India’s actions provocative. Beijing also thought that India was acting under the support of the US to pursue aggressive policies in the region. Beijing thinks the US has designated India a net security provider and New Delhi has taken that designation too seriously. China’s mobilization was therefore reactive and in defense to checkmate India’s border aggression and diplomatic, economic, and military campaign against China.
A contrarian perspective holds Beijing responsible for the military mobilization along the border with India and considers China’s actions as a part of a larger Chinese campaign from the South and East China Seas, Hong Kong, and Taiwan to advocate a pressure campaign domestically and abroad to portray itself as an assertive global power that needs to be feared. According to this view, China introduced a new national security law in the autonomous territory of Hong Kong whereby it restricted people’s freedoms, and the open censure of the Chinese communist party, its leadership, and its policies. This view also quotes China’s ban on the import of beef and wine from Australia because Canberra had launched a campaign against China regarding the origin of the coronavirus. India had also endorsed such a campaign in the UN. This view also holds that China kept flying fighter aircraft and naval ships in the South China Sea which regional countries saw as a violation of their exclusive economic zones but it did not matter to China since it was apparently considering its actions as necessary to impose its ascendancy on the regional countries in the Indo-Pacific region. Hence, Beijing’s military mobilization according to this view was more to be blamed than the Indian unilateral changes in the disputed territories and its aggressive anti-China campaign in collusion with the United States.
Then there is the third interpretation or school of thought on the Sino-Indian border conflict that largely prevails in Pakistan and other smaller South Asian states that have been at the receiving end of India’s belligerence and military assertiveness in the region. This line of sight looks at China’s military assault against India as necessary because New Delhi deserved such a beating, as it was pursuing a coercive diplomatic, economic, political, and military campaign against its neighbors, particularly Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Pakistan has been facing an existential threat from India on the continental border force mobilization or military airstrikes from India as recently was evident during India’s false flag operation and then conducting of failed airstrikes in Pakistan’s territory. In the ensuing dogfight, Pakistan shot down Indian aircraft and captured its pilot. But after some time, Pakistan released him as a signal for peace and avoidance of escalation. Again, in March 2022, India’s unarmed missile landed in Pakistan’s territory. There are credible reports that this missile was launched deliberately to assess Pakistan’s response spectrum. Fortunately, Pakistan’s response was quite measured as it showed restraint and did not rush to react as a responsible nuclear power.
Similarly, India is deporting the Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh and also with the introduction of the citizenship amendment act (CAA), New Delhi is deporting all of those Bengali immigrants that were not in India before December 1971. Also, religious violence against Bengali Muslims in the state of Assam and Bengal in India led to religious violence in Bangladesh against the Hindus. Bangladesh also is therefore concerned about India’s belligerence and Hindutva policies in the region. In Sri Lanka, India has been accused of election interference to support its favorite candidates. Also, India has been pressurizing Colombo to give political and economic rights to the Tamil citizens. This has the seeds of supporting the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka. Lastly, India also unilateral published its map of the country which included areas of Nepal. The Nepalese government has still been asking India to change those maps and stop construction in the disputed regions.
Thus, India’s neighbors consider China as an important regional major power that can contain India’s regional military, economic, and political ascendancy and be a source of security and strategic stability in the region. Thus, the Sino-Indian conflict has divided the world into these three regional schools of thought that consider different security implications for South Asia.