America has inserted itself deeper into the China-India-Pakistan triangle, altering the shape of the regional order, pushing it toward a bipolar one with Beijing and Islamabad on one side and New Delhi and, to some extent, itself on the other.
t isn’t entirely clear what is taking place along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates Chinese and Indian-controlled territory along the Himalayas. However, the more credible voices in the Indian commentariat contend that in May, China made a series of ingresses along the undemarcated, disputed “line” and have assumed control of roughly 60-square kilometers in the Ladakh region claimed by New Delhi, including a strategically-important region near a nearly-completed highway that serves as a vital line of communication to its frontiers with China and Pakistan. And there are unconfirmed reports this morning of renewed clashes near the LAC that have left three Indian soldiers dead and maybe even dozens captured.
Assuming that these contentions are true and that this is no spontaneous border standoff between China and India, one must ask what Beijing’s motivations are. The initial reaction, particularly from China-watchers in the United States, has been to tie Beijing’s moves along the LAC to a broader set of assertive measures, including recent measures to further erode Hong Kong’s autonomy. Beijing, they argue, is exploiting a leadership vacuum in Asia as the United States reels from the coronavirus pandemic, signaling to its neighbors that it is emerging as the region’s dominant power.
But it may be a mistake to reflexively link Beijing’s moves along the LAC to a broader policy of Chinese aggression. In fact, there are indications that China is responding in part to U.S.-backed Indian unilateral measures made last year.
Last August, the Indian government revoked the nominal autonomy of the broader Jammu and Kashmir region, annexing the disputed region which had the status of a state according to the Indian constitution.