As discussions about the collapse of the old world order and the inevitable establishment of a new one (which remains unclear), and the key aftereffects of the pandemic continue, the same maneuvers, which had begun long before the global Coronavirus threat emerged, are still being made on the international political landscape. And this is evidenced by the latest developments on the border of India and the PRC, as well as in Kashmir, which has been the focus of the Indo-Pakistani conflict for more than 70 years.
On May 11, one of India’s leading newspapers, The Times of India, citing sources in the Indian army, reported that there had been a number of faceoffs in the mountainous border region with China during the previous week. In the following days, global media outlets also published this news but with numerous additional details, which must have originated in the imagination of India’s and China’s “well-wishers”.
In reality, the incidents amounted to flare-ups in tensions involving stone-pelting (fortunately, there are plenty of them in the mountains) between rival troops in two separate parts of the Sino-Indian border. Minor injuries sustained by some of the servicemen must have resulted from an accurate aim of some of the stone throwers who, nonetheless, chose to pelt smaller vs. bigger rocks. Then two Chinese military helicopters and a couple of India’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter jets were spotted patrolling the areas of conflict (without violating the neighbor’s air space). Both sides also initially dispatched additional troops to the border areas.
The use of phrases, such as “temporary and short-duration face-offs”, “confrontations routinely occur” and “due to different perceptions about the unresolved boundary”, by the aforementioned army sources is quite telling.
China’s newspaper the Global Times also pointed out the fact that the flare-ups “along the two countries’ border” had been quickly resolved by “local dialogue”, which “showed the effectiveness of the bilateral communication mechanism”. The article also reminded its readers that the aforementioned system was established by the leaders of both nations after a 72-day military standoff in Doklam (in fact, one of the recent incidents took place not far from it) in 2017, which the New Eastern Outlook has covered quite extensively. Incidentally, at the time, the rival military units had also used stones and sharp words in their attacks.
Nonetheless, the mere mention of the Doklam stand-off (which brought the two Asian giants to the brink of an armed conflict) in reports about the latest incidents on May 5-6 is once again further proof that the Sino-Indian relations are still plagued by serious problems. And, at present, it is highly unlikely that it would be possible to definitively answer the questions: “What lies at the source of their conflict? Is it the territorial disputes, whose scale (especially if uncertain) may be quite intractable? Or is it perhaps the rivalry between India and the PRC now that they have become leading world players?”
Yet another incident that took place in the Indian part of Kashmir also happened to be routine in nature (but also quite bloody in this particular case). The New Eastern Outlook has also regularly covered the Kashmir conflict, which remains one of the key threats to global stability. The author would like to remind his readers about developments that occurred after the terror attack in Pulwama, which happened in February of last year.
At the beginning of May 2020, five servicemen plus policemen, including a Colonel and a Major were killed in the Jammu and Kashmir union territory during an encounter with terrorists, who were reported to have sneaked into the region from Pakistan. And although various armed clashes in the aforementioned state in India have become the norm rather than the exception, it has been a long time since an incident of such scale as the one at the beginning of May, with the accompanying loss of life, occurred there.
It is thus not surprising that General Manoj Mukund Naravane, India’s Chief of the Army Staff, issued a stern warning to Pakistan on May 4.
There are also fairly harmless aspects to the Indo-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir. For example, as of recent, a regional sub-division of the Indian Meteorological Department has started including cities under Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (i.e. parts of the state that belong to India’s neighbor) in its forecasts in the daily weather bulletins. In response, Pakistan began reporting the weather for the part of Ladakh located in India (where the second of the aforementioned border incidents involving Chinese and Indian troops took place).
In light of these developments, General Manoj Mukund Naravane made another statement on May 10 about the need for a “whole-of-government” approach to confront the “strategic uncertainties looming” on India’s horizon “as well as non-traditional threats”, such as the SARS-COV-2 pandemic. In addition, he focused on the role of the Indian armed forces in dealing with these uncertainties, and their determination to “cement the country’s reputation as a net security provider in the region”. The army chief also pointed out the urgency of the need for the whole-of-government approach. Although M. M. Naravane’s statement was fairly general in nature, The Times of India deemed it appropriate to elaborate in its report that “his comments came in the backdrop of Pakistan-supported Taliban’s aim for a role in power structure in Afghanistan and China’s persistent efforts to expand military ties with countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and the Maldives”.
Then, a few days later, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said that “India and China attach utmost importance to ensuring peace and tranquility in all areas of Sino-India border regions” (3,500 km in length). He also referred to the affirmations about this made by leaders of both nations, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping, at the two informal summits. As previously discussed in the New Eastern Outlook, these events play an important role in the evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region.
It would be beneficial for everyone if the relationship between the PRC and the United States developed in a similar manner to that between the two Asian giants. The nature of the relations between India and China is quite contradictory, i.e. there is a balance between cooperation and rivalry. And in our imperfect world of politics, it would be unwise to expect anything more.
Hence, the behavior exhibited by India and China during the two recent (fairly minor and not particularly important) incidents in the border region could really be viewed as an example of how to resolve more global issues.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific Region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.