The clashes on the India-China border in the Himalayan mountains, in June 2020, amidst the global turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, left many puzzled. The timing and the circumstances at first appeared to be in no one’s interest, and some even blamed over-zealous local commanders for the escalation. A more complex picture has since emerged, which points to this being the start of a new, more serious and more fundamental rift in Indo-Chinese relations, as the interests of the two Asian giants increasingly diverge, and the differences in their governance systems become more evident and acute.
Whilst China’s strength and global ambitions are much talked about, the rise of India has been largely understated. With nearly 1.38 billion inhabitants, and with an economy that has grown to become the fifth largest in the world, India’s rather limited global projection has often been attributed to its political and ethnic fragmentation. Not for the first time, a totalitarian system may have mistaken diversity for weakness. There are some reasons to believe that China may have underestimated Indian resolve, and may, by provoking the incidents on the Line of Actual Contact, as now appears to have been the case, have awakened India’s readiness to be more assertive in its dealings.
The four contributors to this report delve into some of these issues, broadly all agreeing that whilst a full war is unlikely, the time of peace and tranquillity between the two nuclear-armed countries is over, and Indian-Chinese rivalry will be a predominant feature in the region in the future as the global focus shifts from the Middle East to Asia.