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Monday, July 10th, 2017

Ever since the brief but fierce war between India and China in 1962, the world’s two most populous  countries have been observing an uneasy truce and keeping their border dispute in a deep freeze. Fifty-five years later, there has been a Himalayan thaw – and the cause is not just global warming.

When they met in Beijing in 1988 Deng Xiaoping and Rajiv Gandhi decided not to fix something that ain’t broke, and instead decided to adhere to the unwritten understanding to let the 3,000km Himalayan arc separate their spheres of influence. This pact has been robust enough to withstand numerous skirmishes along disputed borders in Arunachal, Ladakh and Bhutan, the fact that the Dalai Lama resides in India, and a lingering distrust between the two nuclear nations; until now.

Something changed after the new administration took over in Washington, and especially after the famous bear hug administered by Narendra Modi on Donald Trump at the White House last month. There are now geo-strategic rumblings along the Sino-Indian Himalayan border. China feels increasingly encircled, relations with Burma and Singapore have soured somewhat, the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea are unstable.


Beijing and New Delhi used to go out of their way not to irritate each other, but lately they are doing just the opposite. China has been preparing carefully for the post-Dalai Lama era, and could feel it expedient to keep the pot boiling. Modi’s India could feel the need to perform a war dance for domestic purposes.

Whatever the reasons, it is mystifying why the latest flashpoint is the disputed Doklam Plateau near the Bhutan-China-India tri-junction in the Chumbi Valley, which itself is astride India’s strategic Chicken Neck corridor. The timing of this flare-up 150km away from a violent statehood agitation in Darjeeling is also intriguing. The dispute has also been a rude awakening for happy little Bhutan, the only neighbouring country with which Beijing has no diplomatic ties.

Nepal cannot be unconcerned about these tensions so close to our eastern flank. Those who are secretly delighted that Bhutan is getting caught up in this clash of the Titans may bear reminding that although  Bhutan may depend on India for defence and foreign affairs, Nepali nationals are deployed by the Indian Army on the frontlines. As in 1962, thousands of Indian Gorkha soldiers could be killed if the Doklam tension escalated into another Himalayan war. We are forced to think about the anomalous and incongruous state of affairs where nationals of one country serve in the military of another which is a foe of least two of its friendly neighbours.

India and China benefit from the fact that there is a 1,500 km mountainous border between them that they don’t need to guard because Nepal is a buffer state. And it is in Nepal’s national interest that this conflict does not escalate. The sabre-rattling by the media on both sides is deafening. It has degenerated to the point where Indian TV is now countering belligerent prose on China’s semi-official Global Times in the use of racist epithets. Going by the Indian and Chinese social networks, war has already broken out.

New Delhi and Beijing need to put the Himalaya back into the deep freeze. Both countries have bigger things to worry about.

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2 Responses to “THE  HIMALAYAN  THAW”

  1. Anupam on Says:

    It is an utter shame that “India locked” Bhutan cannot have relation with China! But things would improve should the B-I defence treaty be abrogated, India will have lesser border flash point headaches.

  2. shj on Says:

    To Anupam
    Bhutan is not a sell out like Nepal. They have remained one of the happiest countries in the world and tbey cherish friendship with India. Going with China will only harm them and they know that. Thats why Bhutan India treaty is in place. Smaller countries like Bhutan are better off dealing with China indirectly through India after Chinese are known for their coersive tactics especially dealing with smaller countries.

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