On June 16, a confrontation between India and China took place in the Galwan Valley in the disputed Aksai Chin-Ladakh region, which accounts for the most serious skirmish in the last few decades between this two states; although they get confronted on a regular basis almost every year at this time of the year on both sides of the very ambiguous Line of Actual Control (LAC), this confrontation takes particular relevance for being the first one since 1975 that results in fatalities: twenty Indian troops and an indefinite number of Chinese officers perished in the confrontation. In this regard, it should be noted that the confrontation was carried out “hand to hand” without firing a single bullet, according to security protocols agreed by both countries.

The conflict was the result of an escalated tension developing since May between the sides that accuse each other of having invaded the opposite territory, in a region that poses serious and important strategic challenges for their geopolitical pretensions and that had been filling with military personnel for several months, as a safeguard measure for infrastructure that both countries have built in the area.

Conflicting strategic interests

For India this area is of great importance not only for the fact that it represents a historic territorial claim, but also because, Aksai Chin, currently under Chinese administration, would become part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to which the Indian central government in a very controversial decision revoked its autonomy last year, intensifying the state of siege in that troubled region.

China, for its part, maintains a highly relevant economic corridor with its ally Pakistan, India’s historical rival and which also maintains territorial claims in the Kashmir region.

For Beijing, the disputed territory is of vital importance for the purposes of its ambitious Belt and Road initiative that it intends to promote as the economic and commercial axis of Eurasia for the next decades, consolidating the Asian giant as the dominant global power. So strengthening its presence on the ground and especially its relationship with Pakistan, through which China has access to the Arabian Sea, is paramount.    

Two blocks in dispute of the “Tech Cold War “

India and China are both part of the BRICS trade association (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), however, the often different economic interests between China and the rest of the members have led to an increasingly pronounced rift between these two countries, thus causing a level of competition for control of the Asia-Pacific region that in recent years and, especially since Hindu nationalism rise to power in India along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has come to an inclination and ever closer cooperation with the United States and with the western area of ​​influence in the Pacific, that is: Australia and Japan; in a joint effort to curb accelerated Chinese growth.

For their part, India and the United States have signed several military and commercial cooperation and investment agreements, however, the Indian production network continues to be dependent on Beijing, since the value chains are mostly anchored to China, especially in the pharmaceutical industry of which India is the largest global producer, but whose inputs and raw materials are supplied in more than 70% by China. Likewise, Russia remains the largest seller of military equipment to India. So the transit from New Delhi in this new and clear alignment with the West has to be done carefully and gradually or it risks causing serious damage to the economy of the second most populated country in the world, the so-called “most populous democracy” and which, according to some economic projections, will be the second largest economy in the world in just a few decades.

Now, the process of economic “disengagement” has already begun, India adds a new front to the trade war that the United States has with China, this time in the technology sector, in what some are already calling a “tech cold war”, by prohibiting the operation –in India of dozens of apps of Chinese origin, including the popular TikTok, with arguments full of accusations that range from espionage to national security. Additionally, we began to see the cancellation of contracts with technology platform providers and access to the installation of 5G technology in India by Chinese companies, especially Huawei and ZTE. Measures that harmonize with those promoted by the United States and the United Kingdom that, with similar public motivations, reveal a joint strategy in the competition for data technology and the strategic, geopolitical and commercial value that these represent for the global economy of the century XXI.

Therefore, this technological veto opens a huge gate for European and American competitors to a market of 1.2 billion people and it is clearly a gesture that has not gone unnoticed in Washington, receiving praise from the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who also commented on the possibility of replicating the action in this country.

Choosing sides 

We see clearly that the conflict between the two emerging powers will not be armed, at least not in the near future, in fact, since June began a process of de-escalation of the conflict in the border region.

China is focused on it continuing expansion of its influence and consolidation of its credibility in world leadership. It also has at least three internal conflicts to attend: Hong Kong; the growing international concern about the situation of the Uighur Muslims; and its attempt to resume economic growth that has taken a big hit as a result of the pandemic.

India, on the other hand, understands that China far surpasses it in military capabilities, and although it has increased anti-Chinese sentiment and propaganda, it knows that it is not the ideal time for a military exacerbated conflict, taking into account that, in addition, it is in the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic, being already the third country in the world with the highest number of total and active cases, after the United States and Brazil, respectively. This coupled with the public health and economic consequences that this entails facing the possibility of a deep recession.

However, even if calm is restored and a tense calm gets reestablished between the two, the June fight and the measures taken in the following weeks will definitely mark a turning point in a difficult and deteriorated relationship that makes it clear – now more than never – the side that India has chosen in this dispute for global hegemony

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