New standoffs between China and India

China and India are beefing up their military capabilities again. The two Asian giants are confronting each other in traditional hotspots and in the Indian Ocean. War is still not in the cards, but the growing tensions between India and China adds to the region’s volatility.

Indian Soldiers saluting in front of a ship
Zhoushan port, April 28, 2020: Special operation soldiers of the 35th Fleet of China’s navy salute before departing for an escort mission at the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia; China’s expanding presence in the Indian Ocean alarms New Delhi. © dpa

According to the Indian Defence News, an undisclosed Chinese company has leased for 50 years a tiny island from the Republic of Maldives. Aerial photographs now show the island being extended so that it may serve as an air force base on the Indian Ocean, only some 600 kilometers off the Indian mainland.

India is understandably concerned by Beijing’s expansion in the international arena, especially its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the increasingly assertive posture of China’s growing navy in the China Seas and the Indian Ocean. Also, the two countries share the world’s longest land border that includes many disputed areas in the Himalayas. Their forces have regularly clashed in those hotspots, including recently. 

Of further concern is the volatile trilateral relationship of India, China and Pakistan, as China has been bolstering its influence in Pakistan. All three states are nuclear powers.

India is part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad), together with the United States, Japan and Australia. The alliance’s aim seems to be containing China’s rise. 

The latest clash in the Himalayas was triggered by India’s infrastructure construction close to the demarcation lines. As with many previous incidents, this will not lead to war. However, it shows how intense the relationship between the two most populous nations is. Both have been beefing up their military capabilities. Their stands are also hardened by the rivalry between the U.S. and China.

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