The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Game of Thrones on the High Peaks

India-China-Pakistan-disputes-small

Is there an Asian country with which China doesn’t have a territorial dispute? Or a neighbor that China doesn’t repeatedly poke in the eye?

Today it’s India’s eye getting poked: Chinese troops reportedly ventured into Indian territory in Ladakh and set up camp six miles inside the border. Territorial violations like this one are common; neither country agrees where the line actually is. But rarely do one country’s forces appear to settle down so permanently on the other side.

“According to Indian officials, a Chinese patrol pitched camp on April 15 on the Indian side of the LAC [Line of Actual Control] near Daulat Beg Oldi, in the Depsang area of the far north of Ladakh, a mountainous desert region near the Karakoram Pass linking China to Pakistan,” the Financial Times reports. “Indian government officials have confirmed that on the night of April 15, two helicopters gave support to the Chinese as they set up temporary posts on the Indian side of the disputed border,” according to NDTV, an Indian news website.

The FT continues:

The Indian government…is taking a serious view of what is described in official agreements as a “face-to-face situation” and which it regards as a violation of normal practice. It occurred ahead of a planned visit to India and Pakistan next month by Li Keqiang, Chinese premier.

“We are taking every action to protect our interests,” said AK Antony, Indian defence minister. Salman Khurshid, foreign minister, said the incident should not be allowed to escalate. “It’s a matter that we take seriously, but we will address it in an appropriate way and we are addressing it,” he said.

China and India went to war over their disputed boundary in 1962. China simultaneously invaded Ladakh and Aksai Chin in the west and Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls South Tibet, in the east. Though remote, rugged, undeveloped, and sparsely populated, the disputed areas are huge: Aksai Chin is the size of Switzerland, and Arunachal Pradesh is twice as large.

China has repeatedly stated that its rise is not a threat to its neighbors. And yet Beijing continues to clash repeatedly with just about every neighboring country over one disputed territory or another. Because of this, many of these neighbors—including Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, and others—have banded together in one way or another to balance China.

This balancing act largely supports a continued—and stabilizing—US presence in the region, but if China continues antagonizing its neighbors things could take a turn for the worse. One day, someone might retaliate.

Published on April 23, 2013 6:00 pm
  • http://twitter.com/gtotango Greg Olsen

    Could Chinese provocations drive the smaller states bordering China into a grand alliance to contain China, which is exactly what the Chinese don’t want? Could we see South and Southeast Asian rivals joining to contain China? Ultimately will the US be drawn into an Asian Commitment?

  • Anthony

    China is developing regional hegemon. What you infer WRM is defensive coalition against inevitable; it may or may not develop but U.S. at moment provides backstop/shield for China’s neighbors – excluding North Korea. However, what you describe above may be part and parcel of Xi Jinping’s the great remaissance of the Chinese nation.

  • Douglas Levene

    Ladakh is an old Himalayan kingdom that is culturally and religiously Tibetan although the language spoken is Ladakhi. Ladakh (capital: Leh) today comprises geographically a large majority of the state that India calls Jammu & Kashmir, although Ladahkis are only a small minority of the state’s population. If you ask the Tibetan Buddhist Ladakhis whether they would prefer to be ruled by India or Pakistan, they overwhelmingly pick India. As Prof. Mead notes, large parts of Ladakh are currently ruled by China. I do not know how populated those regions are compared to the parts under Indian rule. I have never heard of any foreigner visiting Chinese-ruled Ladakh and information about life there is exceedingly rare.

  • Anthony

    This is off topic WRM: since introduction of Disqus format, an observation (generally speaking) that anonymity of check icons beneath comment section provides mechanism to pass superficial judgment (up or down) without engaging merit or demerit of comment via reply merits consideration. That is, perhaps a good deal of low grade frustrated hostility to differing points of view is being expended anonymously – leaving to speculation that anonymity may mask intolerance of differing point of view or that if comment does not harmonize with predispose inclination it is strongly opposed whatever may be objectively the case. Just trying to stay in line with guidelines set out at Mrs. Mead’s table in 21st century world.