Can China and India Coexist in Peace?

If India and China cannot manage their insecurities, they will only keep butting heads — and not just at their border.

Naz El-Khatib

July 29, 2020

Can China and India Coexist in Peace?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together in Wuhan, China, in April 2018. (India Press Information Bureau)

As the sun set on June 15, dozens of Chinese and Indian soldiers came to blows in the Himalayas. Wielding clubs lined with barbed wire, they fought on steep terrain at the top of the world. At least 20 Indian men were beaten or fell to their deaths; many others were wounded on both sides of the battle (China has not released the number of its fatalities). It was the most violent confrontation between India and China since the 1960s, and the first deaths at their disputed border since 1975. By some measures, the fight came as a surprise. But the tension between these countries runs much deeper, at their disputed border and beyond.

Today, all eyes are trained on the ongoing situation and whether Beijing and New Delhi can resolve this border crisis, the worst of four in less than a decade. The outcome remains uncertain: talks to ease tensions have stalled, India on Monday banned 47 more Chinese apps beyond TikTok and the 58 other apps it had banned in June, and just today, reports have suggested that India is preparing to move an additional 35,000 troops to the border to counter Chinese deployments. Even if India and China manage to de-escalate, their border dispute will still fester, unresolved. And so will the more fundamental issue that this crisis has inconveniently brought to the foreground: the shared, mutually reinforcing insecurity that sits at the heart of modern ties between these two countries.

In these critical next few years, we are likely to discover whether 2020 will mark a “watershed moment” in this century’s defining relationship for Asia, and perhaps even for the world: can India and China coexist — if not enthusiastically, at least in relative peace — as their power exponentially grows?