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India’s China Strategy Is Changing

Since independence, India has steadfastly sought strategic autonomy from other great powers. But China's repeated incursions along the disputed Himalayan border have left it with a stark choice: kowtow to China or align itself with a broader international coalition aiming to curb its neighbor's geopolitical ambitions.

NEW DELHI – After last month’s clash in the Ladakh region’s Galwan Valley killed 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops, the two countries are settling in for a prolonged standoff on their disputed Himalayan frontier, even amid reports of a disengagement at the site of their recent clash. More important, the recent skirmish may have highlighted a broader shift in Asian geopolitics.

At first glance, this suggestion may seem exaggerated. After all, China and India had been making a decent fist of living with each other. Although they haven’t reached a durable settlement of their disputed 3,500-kilometer (2,200-mile) border, not a shot had been fired across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 45 years. Meanwhile, bilateral trade has climbed to $92.5 billion in 2019 from just $200 million in 1990.

Of course, bilateral tensions also reflect long-term disagreements that go beyond territorial disputes, such as China’s “all-weather” alliance with Pakistan, and India’s hospitality toward the Dalai Lama, to whom it granted refuge when he fled Tibet in 1959. But neither country has been swept up by these issues. When China declared that the border dispute could be left to “future generations” to resolve, India was happy to go along. India also endorsed the “One China” policy, and shunned United States-led efforts to “contain” its northern neighbor.