China and India should tone down the rhetoric on border dispute

China and India should tone down the rhetoric on border dispute

SAM Staff,

The rising tensions between China and India and mounting rhetoric from the more excitable media over an army stand-off in disputed territory involving Indian ally Bhutan gives the impression that war is imminent. Troop reinforcements have been sent in and a dangerous situation could easily escalate should shots be accidentally fired. But despite tough talk from officials, neither government wants or needs such a conflict. Cool heads have to prevail, with soldiers being pulled back so that talks to resolve the crisis can take place.

India has ignored Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s (王毅) call to withdraw its troops from the Donglang region in Tibet, an area neighbouring the Indian state of Sikkim and contested by nearby Bhutan. The soldiers rushed in a month ago over the Chinese construction of a road perceived as being a security threat and a violation of Bhutan’s territorial claims. The Ministry of Defence said Beijing would protect sovereignty “at all costs” and a spokesman warned that it was “easier to shake a mountain than to shake the People’s Liberation Army”. Indian rhetoric has been similarly robust, with military officials contending that their country’s army is far stronger now than in 1962, when it was defeated by China during a brief border war.

Pride is driving the muscle-flexing. Both nations are vying for influence in South Asia and India is suspicious about Chinese intentions, the reason it has refused to join Beijing’s belt and road trade initiative. The nations still have numerous contested claims along their 3,500km border, but the latest stand-off, the most serious in three decades, does not involve any of the disputes. Instead, it has been driven by New Delhi’s wariness and a desire to show its military strength. Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of border talks since 1984 and despite the obvious disagreements, the kingdom is capable of striking a deal. India has no role to play, just as it should not have sent its troops into disputed territory whether invited by Bhutan or out of concern for security.

But with the risk of conflict so great, Chinese and Indian soldiers should back off so that the deadlock can be resolved by negotiators.