A military border stand-off between nuclear-armed neighbors India and China in the Himalayas escalated into deadly clashes on June 15, constituting the worst fighting between the two countries in over five decades and leaving scores of dead and injured soldiers on both sides.
The latest round of blows signifies a major escalation in a border confrontation between the two most populous nations and largest armies, especially since the mutually-respected rules of engagement, having prevented a single casualty for forty-five years, were finally broken. India has now accused China of violating these rules in a “premeditated” attack on its troops in the strategically important Galwan Valley in Ladakh.
Relative Peace and Troubled Waters
Despite ongoing disputes, both sides maintained relative peace and built upon their complex relationship. So much so that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met a whopping eighteen times since Modi’s election in 2014. Unfortunately, these meetings that were meant to build this relationship now serve as mere images, seared into the minds of angry Indians, of the two leaders swinging cozily on the banks of the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad during Xi’s visit to Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The violent standoff has shocked the country and raised questions on what Modi’s diplomatic efforts and alleged bonhomie with Xi have achieved.
For Indians, history stands as a painful reminder when it comes to China. India’s crushing defeat at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army during the 1962 border conflict with China was a turning point in India’s foreign policy vision—it led to a massive strategic shift from idealism to realpolitik and forced India to prioritize and embrace hard power aspects such as military modernization, in addition to developmental and other national concerns.
This idealism pushed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the time, under his Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai (India and China are brothers) rhetoric, has evoked a bitter sensation of déjà vu for Indians. As the old saying goes, “Once bitten twice shy.” But as China betrayed India in the 1960s, fast forward to 2020, and it seems China has once again stabbed India in the back.