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Centre for Geopolitics

Providing historically-grounded solutions to enduring geopolitical problems

On the 18th of June, the Centre of Geopolitics hosted a video-panel on “A New Asia? China-Ladakh-India”. Moderated by Dr. Shruti Kapila, Faculty of History at Cambridge, the event focused on current Sino-Indian relations, which have received a lot of attention recently in view of severe military clashes at the border between the two most populous states in the world.

The panel brought together a number of high-level speakers. Manish Tewari, a member of the Indian Parliament and former Minister of Information and Broadcasting (2012-2014) as well as Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, put the Sino-Indian standoff in the broader context of China’s rise to world power. China, he argued, used the border conflict as a steppingstone to position itself in the region as a whole, which explains why 23 rounds of negotiations between New-Delhi and Beijing on the issue since 1980 remained unsuccessful. He also underlined Indian anger towards the recent and deadly escalation of the border situation.

Dr. Aparna Pande, Research Fellow & Director of Hudson Institute's ‘Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia’, took up Mr Tewari’s comment. The border conflict should be seen as one of many incidents which shatter the myth that the rise of China could be integrated in the current multilateral system. Also, India’s hope that a rising China would lose interest in the border conflict due to the economic attractiveness of the Indian market had been proven wrong, she argued.

Agreeing with the view was Dr Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation (New Dehli). China wanted to show that it was the ultimate arbiter of diplomacy in its immediate neighborhood. In the end, India represents only a temporary target for China, whose ultimate goal was the domination of the markets and politics of Europe.

Jonathan Holslag, Professor for International Politics at the Free University (Brussels), warned that the Himalaya increasingly proved to no longer be a significant geographical impediment for the militaries of India and China. The PLA in particular seems increasingly well trained and equipped to operate in the border region. This trend makes further violent incidents along the Sino-Indian border in the future more likely.

The debate also engaged with the current border crisis as a means for both governments to deflect from the internal challenges they face as a result of the COVID-pandemic and the role of long-standing enmity and ideology as a driver of conflict.

The video of the event can be found here

Report by Philipp Hirsch, Ax:son Johnson Research Assistant in Applied History, Centre for Geopolitics