The border standoff between China and India has ended, but the rising Asian powers remain locked in a long-term rivalry for regional hegemony.
There seems to have been a de-escalation between India and China in the border dispute over the Doklam Plateau, but the dormant battle across the Himalayas continues.
The Himalayas form a powerful barrier. But, there are areas where the boundary is contested, producing constant tension. The long frontier between India and China is disrupted by two nations south of the Himalayas primary variety and open to India’s heartland: Bhutan and Nepal.
As Bhutan and Nepal are strategically vital to India’s interests, New Delhi yields considerable influence on them, and can, at times, overstep.
India has exercised influence on their internal policies, including by enforcing trade restrictions. The Himalayas are still an efficient line of defense for India against potential Chinese aggression, since traversing them is very difficult. However stronger Chinese influence on Bhutan and Nepal might be strategically lethal for India.
India and China are both emerging world powers with ambitions of regional hegemony. India has numerous concerns aside from its Himalayan border. China became a close commercial and strategic partner of its longtime adversary, Pakistan. Furthermore, the Chinese navy is increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean as part of its One Belt, One Road initiative.
China’s Growing Influence in the Southern Hemisphere
Chinese influence is climbing in Africa, on the other side of the Indian Ocean, and its influence is growing in neighboring Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And on the other hand, India firmly supports Vietnam, that has repeating disputes with China over the South China Sea and works in close cooperation with the United States.
In the 1950s, China annexed Tibet, which is poorly populated because of its elevation and climate. It is located just north of the primary section of the Himalayas. It isn’t just strategically significant, but it’s a source of water to vast portions of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China.
China has brought infrastructure such as improved railroads to Tibet. It’s now working on similar projects to connect China to neighboring states in the Himalayas. China has been improving access to the region with contemporary railroads and highways. It’s also increasing its presence in the area with major road and railway projects through the Himalayas, connecting it with Pakistan, and plans to construct comparable links to Nepal.
Improved rail infrastructure in the Himalayas would connect these states to China’s entire transportation network, which continues to be further developed and modernized. Additionally, China might use its control over the region’s water as a means of exerting influence.
Analysis: China is Unprepared for a Conflict with India
A big issue for China is the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, which is scheduled for October 19. A blunder in Doklam could, in the worst case, cause a power struggle that forces Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down. Xi might still face criticism in the Congress for having to back down in Doklam, but not as far as in other situations. China’s expansionist policies in the South China Sea and elsewhere have won praise throughout China.
Xi’s expansionist policies leave analysts with many questions about where he is leading China. Relations between China and neighboring states like Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, are tense.
Lastly, it is becoming more and more clear that there is a decreasing chance of a peaceful reunification with Taiwan. More pressingly, the ongoing North Korea nuclear weapons crisis presents extreme risks to China in the short term.