Forgotten Conflicts: Chinese Border Disputes

September 9th, 2021

China is notorious for its aggressive economic policies. This is especially true for its expansionist strategy with regard to the global economy. The New Silk Road serves as a prime example. Based on the historic Silk Road, it involves projects that combine the development and expansion of intercontinental trade and infrastructure networks between the People's Republic of China and over 60 other countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. In addition to gaining access to new markets and reducing transaction costs, China hopes to stabilize its borders with Central Asian states.

China's border disputes

It is not only in terms of globalization that China is seeking to expand its influence. This commitment is also visible in the expansion of its national borders; a constant in China's history.  Therefore, it may come as no surprise that China is engaged in border disputes with all of its neighbors - 14 in number.[1] China often justifies its claim on the grounds that the territory in question is part of China "for historical reasons". Critics accuse China of using the so-called salami tactics.[2] By means of small provocations - none of which would justify a reason for war on the side of the attacked party - China tests the reaction of the defender. If there is no reaction, China annexes the new country. If there is significant resistance, they withdraw.

The Sino-Indian Border Conflict

A recent example is the resurgent border conflict between India and China, which escalated again in early May 2020. It spans Lake Pangong in Ladakh, the autonomous region of Tibet, and near the border between Sikkim and Tibet.

The conflict dates back to 1914, when representatives of British India, the Chinese Republic, and Tibet gathered to negotiate a treaty on the status of Tibet and the boundary of British India and China. The British and Tibet reached an agreement on the boundary line, but the Chinese refused to sign the treaty as this would have granted Tibet autonomy. In 1962, war broke out between India and China. China, arguing that Tibet was not independent and therefore not authorized to sign the treaty, marched into Indian territory. The fighting lasted for a month and claimed nearly 2000 lives. As a result, a ceasefire was negotiated in which China retained the conquered territory, the so-called "Line of Actual Control." Since then, there have been repeated skirmishes.[3]

Renewed escalation

In mid-June 2020, bloody clashes broke out again for the first time since October 1967, when, according to Indian sources, 20 Indian[4] soldiers and 43 Chinese soldiers[5] lost their lives in close combat attacks in the Galwan Valley. On September 7th, shots were fired for the first time in 45 years, for which both parties blamed each other.[6] Since then, the situation has stabilized as both factions have begun a partial withdrawal. Nevertheless, the situation remains tense; even numerous attempts at a diplomatic solution remain unsuccessful. For both India and China, the contested regions are of great importance, as the infrastructure projects of both nations indicate.

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The conflict presented here makes it clear that territorial conflicts often do not extend beyond the disputed territory, but remain regionally limited. Despite the sometimes bloody conflicts, the remaining territories of the two countries are hardly affected by the disputes. The disaggregation and classification of conflicts at the subnational level is a distinguishing feature of the MBI CONIAS approach. This ensures a more detailed insight into the regional events of a country and allows a diversified view for risk analysis. We are happy to support you in the analysis of conflict situations.