ST Asian Insider video: High risk in the Himalayas

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WASHINGTON - China has been outmanoeuvering India on the two countries' Himalayan border, gaining territory, while India believes it had successfully avoided war, says South Asia expert Dr Aparna Pande.

The most recent, ongoing standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the fourth time in eight years that China has taken India unawares, Dr Pande, a Research Fellow & Director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington told the ST Asian Insider.

"This is a tried and tested policy," she said.

The two countries have been locked in a border dispute since April.

"First, instigate a border conflict, then indulge in sabre-rattling, display aggression, blame the other country for starting the conflict, and in effect force the democracy, the other country, to believe the only way out is to avoid war and therefore go to negotiations," she told US Bureau Chief and Asian Insider video anchor Nirmal Ghosh.

"Then, drag the negotiations on… and in the end China ends up very often with eight to ten kilometres, sometimes three to five kilometres more territory and doesn't surrender an inch of what it has taken and the other side believes it has avoided war," she said.

"Even this time China has gained… in different locations," Dr Pande added.

"India believes it has retained China's friendship and used diplomacy to avoid a conflict."

From China's point of view, India is a "stalking horse of the United States," Mr Benjamin Kang Lim, Straits Times Global Affairs correspondent based in Beijing, told Asian Insider in the same discussion.

"India says it has an independent foreign policy but China remains unconvinced," Mr Lim said.

Given that the stakes are high, a worse clash between China and India in coming weeks cannot be ruled out, Dr Pande cautioned, recalling that the brief war India and China fought in 1962, was in October, even as winter was beginning to set in.

"Because of worsening relations with the US, I don't think China wants to escalate this," Mr Lim said.

"But looking at things right now I don't think there will be de-escalation any time soon; it's going to be a standoff."

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