Vernuccio’s View: Will China and India Fight?

China Maritime AggressionTwo giant, nuclear armed nations, China and India, are in a tense standoff concerning an inflammatory border dispute.

Continuing its pattern of aggressive expansionism, China attempted to construct a road in a portion of the “Tri-Junction” region, where China, Bhutan and India meet. The area in question belongs to Bhutan, a remote, mountainous nation of less than 15,000 square miles populated by just 750,000 people.  Bhutanese soldiers unsuccessfully tried to stop the construction, prompting its ally India to dispatch its troops at the tiny nation’s request.

The BBC describes India’s interest: “India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland.”

China’s maritime expansionism in the Pacific is well known, but it also has a history of forcefully annexing adjacent land areas, and engaging in massive human rights violations to maintain control.

According to Free Tibet “Following China’s Communist revolution in 1948, it invaded Tibet, [a geographically large nation] in 1950. Overwhelmed, Tibet was forced to give up its independence. After a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama – Tibet’s political and spiritual leader at the time – fled into exile in India followed by tens of thousands of Tibetans. Since 1959, China’s government has exercised total political control over Tibet, using all the tools of repression to deter and punish Tibetan resistance.” That repression was harsh, resulting in close to a million casualties.

The Wall Street Journal notes that “Ties between the two countries, never close, have grown far knottier as China has pursued regional dominance. It has made inroads into India’s traditional sphere of influence, from Nepal to Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean. In response, India has forged closer relations with the U.S. and Japan, moves that have irked Beijing. India has also watched warily as Beijing has tried to shift the balance of power in Asia by enforcing its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.”



A clash between India and China would bring into play massive armed forces. Each nation possesses nuclear weapons. India is believed to have 110 nuclear warheads, 400 cruise missiles, and 5,000 ballistic missiles. China has a minimum of 260 warheads, 3,000 cruise missiles, and 13,000 ballistic missiles. The Chinese nuclear arsenal may be far larger, as open-source information may significantly underestimate the true size of Beijing’s atomic arsenal. A Diplomat study notes that “China officially communicates the least about the size, status and capabilities of its nuclear forces.

Analysts believe that the territorial dispute is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the tensions between the two nations. Stratfor reports “This is a rivalry born completely of high-tech geopolitics…the theoretical arc of operations of Chinese fighter jets at Tibetan airfields includes India. Indian space satellites are able to do surveillance on China. In addition, India is able to send warships into the South China Sea, even as China helps develop state-of-the-art ports in the Indian Ocean. And so, India and China are eyeing each other warily…it becomes apparent that the two nations with the largest populations in the world (even as both are undergoing rapid military buildups) are encroaching upon each other’s spheres of influence…”

While their militaries are at odds, the two nations do have economic ties. The Times of India  reports that “After years of decline, Indian exports to China rose sharply in the first four months of this year registering a 20 per cent increase to $5.57 billion, though the trade deficit continued to persist. Indian exports received a major boost mainly due to China increasing the steel consumption by importing big quantity of iron ore as well as gems and diamonds besides cotton materials.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government. 

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