It looks like China and India are heading towards their own version of the Cold War:
Under cover of night last month, a platoon of People’s Liberation Army soldiers hiked across barren mountains and set up camp in the foothills of the Himalayas, one of the most inhospitable places on earth for a bivouac.
But it wasn’t just an exercise in high-altitude preparedness. The Chinese camp was 19 kilometres on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which separates Ladakh in the state of Jammu & Kashmir from Aksai Chin.
The border here has never been demarcated and remains a thorn in Beijing’s side. A Foreign Ministry spokesman insisted the soldiers were still in China.
The incursion comes as Beijing is on an imperialist expansion kick. It is already embroiled in territorial disputes with neighbours like Japan and the Philippines over islands, and mineral and fishing rights. It recently started cruises to to the Paracel Islands, which is claimed by Vietnam.
Now, the latest land grab, which has passed almost unnoticed in the western press. But it has raised alarm bells in New Delhi, brought protesters out onto the streets and recalls alarming memories of 1962, when the two countries fought a short-lived war triggered by border disputes, and a standoff in 1986.
Well, OK, then! Two nuclear powers are edging closer and closer to outright hostilities! How do I sign up for Mars One again?
China has long given assistance to Pakistan to keep India otherwise occupied, but the combination of American intervention in the region as well as Pakistan’s own internal struggle to keep the Taliban and Islamists tamped down has rendered that an exercise in academia. So I’m guessing China is finding some other way to kick India in the nuts.
Given China’s other pots on burners, like North Korea, Iran, and Africa, you’d think they’d want to fix this as peacefully and unobtrusively as possible. And so far, they’ve managed to keep the skirmishes on the back burner, even in India.
If China intends on adding itself to the roster of failed imperialist states, annexing the closest territories it can find is a good place to start. After all, America’s imperialism began with our doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the belief that we owned the continent from sea to shining sea.
Now, this is not to say that China is necessarily at fault. Apparently, India has been massing troops on the LAC noted above. It has done this twice before, and both times, China punished them. It could be that India has decided to act while China is distracted elsewhere, with Japan and the Philipines, both of which have made some inroads into territory that China has claimed, and that have nebulous nationality. You can add Vietnam, Brunei, and the Maldives to the list of nations with border spats with China.
The larger concern is, of course, an accident that triggers an armed confrontation. No one wants that, but as history has shown time and time again, it’s one of the few guarantees when two nations go toe-to-toe in dust-ups. It only takes a local commander with a hangover.