Recurring Tension Between India and China Leads to 20 Soldiers Killed at the Border

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Decades of disagreements between China and India resurfaced as the countries clashed over another undemarcated border. From 1950 when China claimed Tibet and 1954 when India rejected their claim, accepting Tibetan refugees en masse, to just around two weeks ago when an undemarcated border clash resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers, the disputes have increasingly grown more violent.

The countries’ long and complicated history of war regarding a long mountainous border has only escalated over time. Though the countries have resolved some of their past conflicts, many continue to arise as new land is claimed by either side. The first major dispute began in July 1954, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India requested to revise maps and show definite borders all around the country. However, Chinese maps showed about 75,000 square miles of Indian territory (which was identified as Tibet) as Chinese. When questioned, Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of People’s Republic of China, responded that there were errors in the maps, and dismissed the topic.

Since India didn’t believe that China should have control over Tibet, they voiced their complaints and let China know that they believed it was unfair by proposing changes that China later turned down. China’s perception of India as a threat to its rule of Tibet turned into one of the most prominent reasons for the Sino-Indian War (Oct. 1962 – Nov. 1962). Zhou Enlai, former-foreign minister of China, played a key role in implementing a unilateral ceasefire which ended the war and negotiating the border. This led to a pull back on the strict “no unnecessary weapons” and put the Indian Army on the path of modernization. The greater emphasis on nuclear power and use of nuclear weapons became part of India’s defense policy.

Since then, both Chinese and Indian soldiers have violently clashed several times. The Nathu La and Cho la clashes (Also known as the Second Sino-Indian war) occurred in Sikkim, India in October 1967, when a Chinese military unit began firing artillery shells at Indian soldiers. In the ensuing conflicts, more than 150 Indians and 340 Chinese were killed.

More recently in 2017, the Chinese set to work building a road in the Doklam Plateau, an area of the Himalayas controlled by India’s ally Bhutan. The plateau is on the border of Bhutan and China, but India saw it as a buffer area that is close to other disputed areas with China, such as the undemarcated area of land that was fought over in the Sino-Indian war.

Indian troops carrying weapons and operating bulldozers confronted the Chinese, stating that they had the intention of destroying that road. From there, arguments broke out and soldiers threw rocks at each other, resulting in injuries of soldiers from both sides. A compromise was later reached, as the countries agreed to withdraw from the area, and China stopped construction on the road.

This image highlights an area that shows the disputed region between Nepal and India, which caused tensions to arise between the two countries. Image Courtesy of Nikkei.

Not only is there a history of conflict between the nations, but there have also been alliances in favor of China that have assisted in the escalation of war. For example, China is currently working with Pakistan, India’s chief political rival. China recently agreed to help construct a large dam on the border of the conflicted region of Kashmir, the site of many clashes between India and Pakistan. Additionally, China has been working with Nepal. Nepal produced a map in Nov. 2019 that caused controversy on where the Indian border lies. Since then, India has blamed China for rising tension. Nepal was once a close ally, but after India encouraged a punishing trade blockade in 2015, Nepal drifted closer to China. Lastly, the Chinese have taken over an island in the Maldives, a few hundred miles off India’s coast. Indian military experts say China may be expanding the island for possible use as an airstrip or submarine base.

After a lull in recent years, there was a major violent border clash between China and India on May 5. It resulted in the death of about 20 Indian soldiers and many others from both nations’ troops wounded. Both countries have been insisting that they don’t want a war, but thousands of troops have been sent, leading the public to believe that there may be some development in claiming the undemarcated land in the near future. Both countries have nuclear weapons and are avoiding the use of any weapons on their opposing troops, but it is likely just a matter of time until this situation escalates and soldiers are forced to use weapons to defend their respective countries.

This image shows the disputed areas of land between Pakistan, China, and India. Many areas are currently controlled by one country, but are not officially under their claim. Image Courtesy of BBC.

The soldiers followed their de facto border code not to use firearms and went at each other with “fists, rocks and wooden clubs, some possibly studded with nails or wrapped in barbed wire,” according to the South China Morning Post. It seems that India’s military is hesitant and standoffish because India has increasing COVID infections as well as an economic downturn, so it would be even harder to maintain a border conflict. One theory is that this clash is China’s way of telling India to back off of the way China has handled the COVID situation, since other nations haven’t hesitated to have their opinions and talk about how this situation may completely undermine China’s ambitions of becoming a global economic and political power.

Additionally, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who is usually outspoken in defense of his country’s interests, seems interested in avoiding an escalation, so we can assume that India has attempted to limit how forceful they are at the border. Public pressure has been mounting on Modi to decrease the economic interdependence between China and India. As explained on India Times, Narendra Modi proposed a new policy that self sufficiency and self reliance. He believes that India can rely on less imports and increased exports to maintain a higher GDP. However, this method was attempted by both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (Prime Minister 1966-1977 and 1980-1984) and it was an economic disaster, as it produced the “Hindu Rate of Growth”, which argued that no matter what happens to the economy, the trend growth rate in India will be 3.5%.

Do you believe the situation has gotten more violent between China and India because of the recent dispute over the unmarked border?

“I believe that because it’s not the most violent dispute to happen (the two previous wars) the situation hasn’t gotten more violent. However, I do believe that there’s major potential for future violence because of it, especially given the fact that weapons are getting more advanced every year. If the border dispute isn’t settled soon it could end in disaster for both countries which is the opposite of what the world needs right now.” Sophie King, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, McLean, VA
“For many years India and China have had growing tensions rising from border disputes. After the recent unmarked border dispute, the situation between the two countries has gotten more violent, and additionally there were casualties on both sides that resulted. There have also been other border disputes that China’s Communist Party has been involved in regarding their other neighboring countries. My hope is that the current tension between India and China will de-escalate through further peaceful negotiations.” Student, 15, who preferred to remain anonymous, Fairfax, VA
“I definitely believe that the situation has gotten more violent between China and India. Although violent actions have been taken recently, this dispute over the border has created a long standing grudge between the two nations. This grudge held power, and created certain political images of one another. Because of these contrasting points of view, it has created a more violent situation than ever.” Richa Misra, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High school for Science and Technology, Chantilly, VA
“Although recent conflicts on the China-India border have led to increased violence between the two countries, the more dramatic impact will be on the economic relationship between the two countries. After years of quarreling over the exact border between the two countries, this recent conflict may be the tipping point that leads India and China to sever ties with each other in an economic sense. However, this is not an easy task for the countries as they both rely heavily on each other. Due to recent conflict between China and the US, India and the US are likely to become closer trading partners, which would be devastating to the Chinese economy. India, as it relies on China for billions of dollars of imports and exports cannot easily disconnect from this trade partner. Therefore, thus conflict, although it will not cause a full-out war, it will lead to devastating economic changes for both countries.” Niharika Chandna, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High school for Science and Technology, Fairfax, VA

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