border clashes between china and india 14000 feet up in the himalayas are much more than a local dispute - Border clashes between China and India 14,000 feet up in the Himalayas are much more than a local dispute
border clashes between china and india 14000 feet up in the himalayas are much more than a local dispute 2 - Border clashes between China and India 14,000 feet up in the Himalayas are much more than a local dispute

“Two bald men fighting over a comb” was the despairing assessment of Jorge Luis Borges of the Falklands War as the Argentine writer deplored the loss of so many lives in a war over a remote, sparsely inhabited island on the edge of the world.

The same may be said of the lethal skirmishes between troops of China and India, “two nuclear armed powers” as every media report reminds, in the Aksai Chin, 14,000 feet up in the Himalayas, barren, covered in snow, with temperatures barely rising above freezing even in the summer.

But the situation there is undoubtedly serious. Twenty Indian and a large number of Chinese soldiers – up to 35 according to US intelligence analysis – were killed in the worst clashes in the region between the two countries in half a century.

No shots were fired, both Delhi and Beijing are keen to point out, which is in line with standing agreement between the two sides on use of weapons. But that does not negate the obvious level of hostilities between the two forces. Indeed, claims that three of the Indian soldiers were beaten to death, circulating in some of the country’s news outlets, seems worse than more impersonal killings from long range.

Most of the deaths, it has subsequently emerged, took place when soldiers, in hand-to-hand fighting, plunged from high and narrow mountain paths into a valley below. The two sides had clashed when an Indian patrol reportedly ran into Chinese troops in an area Beijing was supposedly due to pull out of under a deal made two weeks ago following previous bouts of strife.

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Activists from the Extinction Rebellion movement block a street outside the German Automobile industry association during a protest in Berlin

AFP via Getty

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Barbers wearing protective suits and face masks inside a salon in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Reuters

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4/50 14 June 2020

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People raise their fist and stand on their knees as they demonstrate in Nantes, during a Black Lives Matter protest

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AFP via Getty

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16/50 2 June 2020

Activists of the Socialist Unity Centre of India shout slogans in Ahmedabad in solidarity with protests against the recent killing of George Floyd

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Activists take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Zurich after the recent death of George Floyd

EPA

18/50 31 May 2020

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19/50 30 May 2020

Police officers are seen amid tear gas as protesters continue to rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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20/50 29 May 2020

A boy holds a sign as refugees protest outside the UNHCR offices against a government decision that they should leave their accommodation provided through European Union and UNHCR funds by the end of May, in Athens, Greece

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21/50 28 May 2020

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AFP via Getty

22/50 27 May 2020

Riot police try to control pro-democracy supporters at a rally in Causeway Bay district, Hong Kong

Getty

23/50 26 May 2020

Protesters and police face each other during a rally after a black man died in police custody hours after a bystander’s video showed an officer kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and had stopped moving

Star Tribune via AP

24/50 25 May 2020

The aerobatic demonstration team ‘Frecce Tricolori’ of the Italian Air Force flies in formation above the Milan Cathedral. Starting from 25 May, the Frecce Tricolori will perform every day in the skies throughout Italy as part of the 74th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Italian Republic and to pay homage to the areas most affected by the coronavirus

EPA

25/50 24 May 2020

Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca during the early hours of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday which starts at the conclusion of the holy fasting month of Ramadan

AFP via Getty

26/50 23 May 2020

Tamika Eastley, left, and Anthony Ragusa work out as the sun sets over the Kangaroo Point Cliffs in Brisbane, Australia

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27/50 22 May 2020

Firefighters spray water on the wreckage of a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft after it crashed into a residential area in Karachi

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28/50 21 May 2020

Indigenous leader Kretan Kaingang wears a face mask with a hashtag that reads in Portuguese: “Get out Bolsonaro” during a protest demanding the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro outside the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 21, 2020. As Brazil careens toward a full-blown public health emergency and economic meltdown, opponents have filed a request for Bolsonaro’s impeachment based on his mishandling of the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

AP

29/50 20 May 2020

People wait in line to undergo the coronavirus tests while keeping distance from each other at a makeshift clinic set up on a playground in Incheon, South Korea

Yonhap/AP

30/50 19 May 2020

Firefighters fighting a fire at a plastics factory in front of a huge cloud of smoke in Ladenburg, Germany

dpa via AP

31/50 18 May 2020

Ugandan academic Stella Nyanzi reacts as police officers detain her for protesting against the way that government distributes the relief food and lockdown situation in Kampala

Reuters

32/50 17 May 2020

A woman sits alone on a bench in a park following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dublin, Ireland

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34/50 15 May 2020

Healthcare workers, nurses and doctors, unified under the movement called “Take Care of Care” wearing face masks protest against the Belgian authorities’ management of the coronavirus crisis, at the MontLegia CHC Hospital

Reuters

35/50 14 May 2020

A girl watches over goats on the banks of the Dal Lake during rainfall in Srinagar

AFP via Getty Images

36/50 13 May 2020

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37/50 12 May 2020

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China Daily via Reuters

38/50 11 May 2020

Iraqi protesters gather on the Al-Jumhuriyah bridge in the capital Baghdad during an anti-government demonstration. Modest anti-government rallies resumed in some Iraqi cities Sunday, clashing with security forces and ending months of relative calm just days after Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi’s government came to power. The protests first erupted in Baghdad and Shiite-majority southern cities in October, demanding an end to corruption and unemployment and an overhaul of the ruling class

AFP via Getty

39/50 10 May 2020

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40/50 9 May 2020

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42/50 7 May 2020

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43/50 6 May 2020

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44/50 5 May 2020

Bride Janine runs over to her wedding at a Drive-in cinema in Duesseldorf, Germany. The Drive-in theatre started to register official marriages on a stage, allowing all relatives and friends to attend in their cars, as weddings at the registry office are limited due to the coronavirus pandemic

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45/50 4 May 2020

Storekeepers asking for the reopening of shops and commercial activities gather for a flashmob protest on Piazza San Marco in Venice, as Italy starts to ease its lockdown

AFP via Getty

46/50 3 May 2020

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47/50 2 May 2020

Two women carry longboards on an esplanade in Barcelona, during the hours allowed by the government to exercise, for the first time since the beginning of a national lockdown. All Spaniards are again allowed to leave their homes since today to walk or play sports after 48 days of very strict confinement to curb the coronavirus pandemic

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49/50 30 April 2020

Buddhist monks wearing face masks pray during Buddha’s birthday at the Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul, South Korea

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50/50 29 April 2020

A visitor in a plexiglass lock talks to a resident at Les Jardins d’Astrid, a rest home in Maurage, La Louviere, on April 29, 2020, as the visits to residents of rest homes are possible from today in Wallonia. – Belgium is in its seventh week of confinement in the ongoing corona virus crisis. The government has announced a phased plan to attempt an exit from the lockdown situation in the country, continuing to avoid the spread of Covid-19

Belga/AFP/Getty

1/50 17 June 2020

Activists from the Extinction Rebellion movement block a street outside the German Automobile industry association during a protest in Berlin

AFP via Getty

2/50 16 June 2020

Barbers wearing protective suits and face masks inside a salon in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Reuters

3/50 15 June 2020

Siegfried White raises his hand as he protests outside a burned Wendy’s restaurant on the third day following Rayshard Brooks death. The black man was shot by police in the car park in Atlanta. The mayor ordered immediate police reforms on Monday after the fatal shooting by a white officer

AFP via Getty

4/50 14 June 2020

People take part in a Black Lives Matter protest march in central Tokyo

AFP via Getty

5/50 13 June 2020

Protesters raise their fists during a demonstration against police brutality and racism in Paris, France. The march was organised by supporters of Assa Traore, whose brother Adama died in police custody in 2016, in circumstances that remain unclear

EPA

6/50 12 June 2020

A pro-democracy supporter shouts at riot police during an anti-national security law rally in Mongkok district in Hong Kong, China. Protesters heeded online calls to gather as the city marks the one-year anniversary of the major clashes between police and pro-democracy demonstrators over the controversial extradition bill

Getty

7/50 11 June 2020

A section of the River Spree next to the Reichstag building coloured green by activists from “Extinction Rebellion” to protest the German government’s coal policies in Berlin

AFP via Getty

8/50 10 June 2020

A woman poses in front of a decapitated statue of Christopher Columbus at Christopher Columbus Park in Boston Massachusetts. The statue’s head, damaged overnight, was recovered by the Boston Police Department, as a movement to remove statues commemorating slavers and colonisers continues to sweep across the US

AFP via Getty

9/50 9 June 2020

Ivy McGregor, left, reads a resolution during the funeral for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church in Houston. George Floyd is being laid to rest in his hometown, the culmination of a long farewell to the 46-year-old African American whose death in custody ignited global protests against police brutality and racism

AFP via Getty

10/50 8 June 2020

People raise their fist and stand on their knees as they demonstrate in Nantes, during a Black Lives Matter protest

AFP via Getty

11/50 7 June 2020

A woman looks on during a protest against the killing of George Floyd in Osaka city, western Japan

EPA

12/50 6 June 2020

Demonstrator raise their fists at the Lincoln Memorial during a protest against police brutality and racism in Washington, DC. Demonstrations are being held across the US following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota

AFP via Getty

13/50 5 June 2020

A handout photo made available by 2020 Planet Labs shows an aerial view of the large diesel spill in the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk in the Arctic. Russia has managed to contain a massive diesel spill into a river in the Arctic, a spokeswoman for the emergencies ministry told AFP. Environmentalists said the oil spill, which took place last May 29, was the worst such accident ever in the Arctic region

Planet Labs Inc./AFP via Getty

14/50 4 June 2020

Activists hold a candlelit remembrance outside Victoria Park in Hong Kong, after the annual vigil, that traditionally takes place in the park to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, was banned on public health grounds because coronavirus

AFP via Getty

15/50 3 June 2020

A visitor walks in Odaiba as the sun sets in Tokyo

AP

16/50 2 June 2020

Activists of the Socialist Unity Centre of India shout slogans in Ahmedabad in solidarity with protests against the recent killing of George Floyd

AP

17/50 1 June 2020

Activists take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Zurich after the recent death of George Floyd

EPA

18/50 31 May 2020

A black man and a white woman hold their hands up in front of police officers in downtown Long Beach during a protest against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested and pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Protests sweeping the United States over the death of George Floyd reverberated on the other side of the globe when thousands marched in solidarity on the streets of New Zealand

AFP via Getty

19/50 30 May 2020

Police officers are seen amid tear gas as protesters continue to rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Reuters

20/50 29 May 2020

A boy holds a sign as refugees protest outside the UNHCR offices against a government decision that they should leave their accommodation provided through European Union and UNHCR funds by the end of May, in Athens, Greece

Reuters

21/50 28 May 2020

Cloud iridescence, an optical phenomenon where light is diffracted through water droplets, is pictured at the edge of some clouds before a summer thunderstorm over Bangkok

AFP via Getty

22/50 27 May 2020

Riot police try to control pro-democracy supporters at a rally in Causeway Bay district, Hong Kong

Getty

23/50 26 May 2020

Protesters and police face each other during a rally after a black man died in police custody hours after a bystander’s video showed an officer kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and had stopped moving

Star Tribune via AP

24/50 25 May 2020

The aerobatic demonstration team ‘Frecce Tricolori’ of the Italian Air Force flies in formation above the Milan Cathedral. Starting from 25 May, the Frecce Tricolori will perform every day in the skies throughout Italy as part of the 74th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Italian Republic and to pay homage to the areas most affected by the coronavirus

EPA

25/50 24 May 2020

Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca during the early hours of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday which starts at the conclusion of the holy fasting month of Ramadan

AFP via Getty

26/50 23 May 2020

Tamika Eastley, left, and Anthony Ragusa work out as the sun sets over the Kangaroo Point Cliffs in Brisbane, Australia

EPA

27/50 22 May 2020

Firefighters spray water on the wreckage of a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft after it crashed into a residential area in Karachi

AFP via Getty

28/50 21 May 2020

Indigenous leader Kretan Kaingang wears a face mask with a hashtag that reads in Portuguese: “Get out Bolsonaro” during a protest demanding the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro outside the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 21, 2020. As Brazil careens toward a full-blown public health emergency and economic meltdown, opponents have filed a request for Bolsonaro’s impeachment based on his mishandling of the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

AP

29/50 20 May 2020

People wait in line to undergo the coronavirus tests while keeping distance from each other at a makeshift clinic set up on a playground in Incheon, South Korea

Yonhap/AP

30/50 19 May 2020

Firefighters fighting a fire at a plastics factory in front of a huge cloud of smoke in Ladenburg, Germany

dpa via AP

31/50 18 May 2020

Ugandan academic Stella Nyanzi reacts as police officers detain her for protesting against the way that government distributes the relief food and lockdown situation in Kampala

Reuters

32/50 17 May 2020

A woman sits alone on a bench in a park following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dublin, Ireland

Reuters

33/50 16 May 2020

Crematory workers using protective gear are pictured at a crematory in Nezahualcoyotl during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico

Reuters

34/50 15 May 2020

Healthcare workers, nurses and doctors, unified under the movement called “Take Care of Care” wearing face masks protest against the Belgian authorities’ management of the coronavirus crisis, at the MontLegia CHC Hospital

Reuters

35/50 14 May 2020

A girl watches over goats on the banks of the Dal Lake during rainfall in Srinagar

AFP via Getty Images

36/50 13 May 2020

Life-size cardboard figures with photos of football fans are positioned on the stands of Borussia Moenchengladbach’s football stadium for their next game, which will be played without spectators, due to the coronavirus outbreak in Germany

Reuters

37/50 12 May 2020

Nurses wearing face masks take part in an event held to mark International Nurses Day, at Wuhan Tongji Hospital in China

China Daily via Reuters

38/50 11 May 2020

Iraqi protesters gather on the Al-Jumhuriyah bridge in the capital Baghdad during an anti-government demonstration. Modest anti-government rallies resumed in some Iraqi cities Sunday, clashing with security forces and ending months of relative calm just days after Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi’s government came to power. The protests first erupted in Baghdad and Shiite-majority southern cities in October, demanding an end to corruption and unemployment and an overhaul of the ruling class

AFP via Getty

39/50 10 May 2020

A man wearing a mask walks his dog in Madrid during the hours allowed by the government to exercise. Spain’s two biggest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, will not enter the next phase out of coronavirus lockdown along with many other regions next week

AFP via Getty

40/50 9 May 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation after laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin wall in Moscow, Russia. Russia marks the 75th anniversary since the capitulation of Nazi Germany in WWII amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic

EPA

41/50 8 May 2020

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of the German Parliament Bundestag Wolfgang Schaeuble, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of the Federal Council Bundesrat in Germany Dietmar Woidke and the presiding judge of the German Federal Constitutional Court’s second senate, Andreas Vosskuhle attend wreath-laying ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, at the Neue Wache Memorial in Berlin. Countries in Europe are commemorating the Victory in Europe Day, known as VE Day that celebrates Nazi Germany’s surrender during World World II on 8 May 1945

EPA

42/50 7 May 2020

A policeman uses his baton to push a resident breaking rules, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow down the spread of coronavirus in Ahmedabad, India

Reuters

43/50 6 May 2020

A nurse tends to a crying newborn baby wearing a face shield at the National Maternity Hospital in Hanoi

AFP via Getty

44/50 5 May 2020

Bride Janine runs over to her wedding at a Drive-in cinema in Duesseldorf, Germany. The Drive-in theatre started to register official marriages on a stage, allowing all relatives and friends to attend in their cars, as weddings at the registry office are limited due to the coronavirus pandemic

AP

45/50 4 May 2020

Storekeepers asking for the reopening of shops and commercial activities gather for a flashmob protest on Piazza San Marco in Venice, as Italy starts to ease its lockdown

AFP via Getty

46/50 3 May 2020

A street vendor wearing a protective face mask waits for customers in Chinatown, after the government started opening some restaurants outside shopping malls, parks, and barbershops in Bangkok, Thailand

Reuters

47/50 2 May 2020

Two women carry longboards on an esplanade in Barcelona, during the hours allowed by the government to exercise, for the first time since the beginning of a national lockdown. All Spaniards are again allowed to leave their homes since today to walk or play sports after 48 days of very strict confinement to curb the coronavirus pandemic

AFP via Getty

48/50 1 May 2020

A girl, wearing a protective mask, plays with bubbles at a shopping mall in Gimpo, South Korea

Reuters

49/50 30 April 2020

Buddhist monks wearing face masks pray during Buddha’s birthday at the Gwanghwamun Plaza in Seoul, South Korea

AP

50/50 29 April 2020

A visitor in a plexiglass lock talks to a resident at Les Jardins d’Astrid, a rest home in Maurage, La Louviere, on April 29, 2020, as the visits to residents of rest homes are possible from today in Wallonia. – Belgium is in its seventh week of confinement in the ongoing corona virus crisis. The government has announced a phased plan to attempt an exit from the lockdown situation in the country, continuing to avoid the spread of Covid-19

Belga/AFP/Getty

These confrontations, with stones, punches and kicks being thrown, had been going on for a while, and there were always dangers of them escalating. The question now is whether they will continue with more casualties taking place. The two sides are holding talks. Both say they want to avoid further confrontations.

But the situation remains combustible. Where exactly the border lies has long been a source of dispute. India sees it as the “McMahon Line” from the time of the British Raj. The Chinese have never officially recognised this, holding instead for “borders of habit that had existed between adjoining peoples for decades previous”. The conflicting stances had led to disputes in the past, including the 1962 war when India suffered a humiliating defeat and sporadic flashes of violence since, including the standoff in Doklam three years ago.

A crucial factor in this is China’s “belt and road” programme, the massive infrastructure initiative which Beijing says is aimed at international prosperity but critics accuse of spreading Beijing’s economic and political hegemony and creating debt dependency which can be exploited for economic and strategic gain.

A key route of belt and road is in this area to Pakistan. I have visited Gwador, at the end of this route, and recall being told by Pakistani officials, including prime minister Imran Khan, just how vital it was to the country’s ailing economy. It is also of huge importance to China, which has invested $60bn (£48bn) on the Pakistan project and will give it a land route to the western side of the Indian Ocean.

The need for belt and road becomes of even more importance to President Xi Jinping’s government in the political landscape which is emerging with the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing has been accused of suppressing information about the disease to the outside world with devastating human and financial cost. It has also been accused of trying capitalise on the upheaval to spread political influence.

The US and a number of western countries, as well as others in south and southeast Asia, are looking at removing their industrial supply lines from China. Some other states are now shying away from the belt and road scheme. At the same time Chinese technology companies, most notably Huawei, are facing bans from entering telecommunications networks abroad.

Donald Trump’s announcement that the postponed G7 summit to be held in the US will be expanded to G11, with Russia allowed back and invitations sent to India, Australia and South Korea, was seen as part of a plan to contain China. This is not new policy from Washington – the latter three countries, along with Japan, a G7 member, have long been mooted as democratic counterweights to China in Asia and, as such, were part of Barack Obama’s projected “pivot to Asia” before the then-president got sucked back into the Middle East crisis with the rise of Isis.

The US has also regularly projected India as a key ally in its Indo-Pacific strategy. The militaries of the two countries have been holding regular exercises and the US has increased supply of sophisticated weaponry to the Indian forces which had, in the past, relied on Russia for armaments. Mr Trump made a highly publicised visit to India three months ago when he was reported to have asked Narendra Modi to further strengthen and formalise the defence alliance.

All this has created suspicion in Beijing and there has been repeated warnings to India that it should be wary of American embrace. The Global Times newspaper, a Chinese government mouthpiece, said recently: “India needs to be careful not to include the US factor in its handling of any problems in its relations with China … China and India have the ability to resolve their problems. If in a new cold war, India leans towards the US or becomes a US pawn in attacking China, the economic ties between the two neighbours will suffer a devastating blow … It would be too much for the Indian economy to take such a hit at the current stage.”

What would happen if there is a prolonged military confrontation between China and India without outside intervention? The Chinese defence budget is nearly $220bn) compared to India’s $52bn. But Indian armed forces are now vastly better armed and better prepared than it was during the 1962 debacle.

One also does not know the current combat capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army. It invaded Vietnam in 1979 in response to the Vietnamese going into Cambodia to overthrow Beijing’s allies, the homicidal Khmer Rouge regime. The Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping told president Jimmy Carter during a visit to the US “the little child is getting naughty, it’s time he gets spanked”. But Vietnam, which over the decades had fought off other invaders – the Japanese, the French and the Americans – did rather well. The Chinese forces had to withdraw from Vietnam. Vietnamese forces stayed on in Cambodia for the next 10 years.

There have been signals from China it is prepared to use force if necessary. Xi Jinping recently ordered the country’s armed forces to “comprehensively strengthen the training of troops and prepare for war” and “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty”. At the same time one of the country’s most senior commanders, General Li Zuocheng, warned that military action may be needed against Taiwan if it continues to refuse the acceptance of Chinese suzerainty.

This could perhaps be written off as tough rhetoric for tough times. But there have also been violent confrontations. A Chinese ship rammed and sunk a Vietnamese ship in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. A standoff between Chinese and Malaysian vessels drew in warships from China, but also the US and Australia.

The Modi government, in fact, has been markedly reluctant to engage in military confrontation with China. It has, for instance, been the most cautious member of the Quadrilateral Alliance set up along with the US, Japan and Australia to uphold the “rules-based international order” in the face of Beijing’s military expansion. Delhi has also been cautious about challenging China in what had previously been its spheres of its influence in the Indian Ocean, such as the Maldives.

The Falklands War had significant repercussions. The Argentine defeat led to the fall of the military junta of General Galtieri and a restart of the democratic process in the country. In Britain, it reversed the plunging popularity of Margaret Thatcher with all that has followed in this country.

The clashes between Chinese and Indian forces in another remote location should not have anything like such consequences. But the potential for major problems, local and regional, short and long term, remain with new tensions between China and its neighbours, and America’s projected return as an Indo-Pacific power.

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