chellaney151_ Yawar NazirGetty Images_india china border dispute Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

The Clash of Asia’s Titans

Chinese President Xi Jinping has picked a border fight that he cannot win, and transformed a previously conciliatory India into a long-term foe. This amounts to an even bigger miscalculation than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to see it coming.

NEW DELHI – With global attention focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s territorial expansionism in Asia – especially its expanding border conflict with India – has largely fallen off the international community’s radar. Yet, in the vast glaciated heights of the Himalayas, the world’s demographic titans have been on a war footing for over two years, and the chances of violent clashes rise almost by the day.

The confrontation began in May 2020. When thawing ice reopened access routes after a brutal winter, India was shocked to discover that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had stealthily occupied hundreds of square miles of the borderlands in its Ladakh region. This triggered a series of military clashes, which resulted in China’s first combat deaths in over four decades, and triggered the fastest-ever rival troop buildup in the Himalayan region.

India’s counterattacks eventually drove the PLA back from some areas, and the two sides agreed to transform two battlegrounds into buffer zones. But, over the last 15 months, little progress has been made to defuse tensions in other areas. With tens of thousands of Chinese and Indian troops standing virtually at attention along the long-disputed border, a military stalemate has emerged.

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