Op-Ed / Asia 1 minutes

India’s Perilous Border Standoff With China

Modi’s Tough Stance Could Invite—Not Deter—Chinese Aggression.

High up in the mostly uninhabitable stretches of the Himalaya Mountains, the world’s two largest armies are facing off. The tensions at the disputed Chinese-Indian border, where around 100,000 troops are garrisoned at remote outposts, rarely makes international headlines. But it is one of the world’s most dangerous flash points. In 2020, clashes at the border left over 20 soldiers dead, marking the most significant fighting between China and India since the two countries fought a war in 1962.

Tensions at the roof of the world have persisted ever since. In the last four years, both sides have sought to build up infrastructure and position yet more troops along the border. Just as China spars with many of its neighbors over competing territorial claims, the unresolved boundary dispute with India is a great source of volatility. The annual threat assessment released in March by the U.S. director of national intelligence warned that sporadic encounters between Indian and Chinese troops “risk miscalculation and escalation into armed conflict.”

The deepening border crisis reflects the growing strategic rivalry between India and China. Bilateral ties sharply deteriorated in the wake of the 2020 clashes. Facing China’s superior military and its increasingly aggressive foreign policy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to deepen India’s alignment with the United States and other countries wary of Beijing. He has embraced India’s new role as a counterbalance to China in the Indo-Pacific. He has boosted the country’s participation in the so-called Quad, its security partnership with Australia, Japan, and the United States. And he has ensured that in many areas, bilateral relations between China and India are functionally frozen, harking back to the era between 1962 and 1988 when the two countries did not maintain normal diplomatic ties because of the border dispute.

The full article can be read on the Foreign Affairs website.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.