Sino-Indian border row raises tension

Clockwise, from foreground left: Brazilian President Michel Temer, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma at a Brics leaders' meeting on the sidelines
Clockwise, from foreground left: Brazilian President Michel Temer, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma at a Brics leaders' meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

HAMBURG • Things might have been a little awkward when Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw each other on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting in Germany.

Far from the plush leaders' summit in Hamburg, China and India are facing the resurgence of a decades-long dispute over a remote area of the Himalayas.

The interruption of summits by such tensions is a regular event, but both sides are now invoking memories of a 1962 border war in which Maoist China defeated India.

While the latest flare-up is likely to be resolved diplomatically, it adds to an increasingly fraught relationship between the nuclear powers as they jostle for influence in South Asia. India's fast-growing economy is fuelling its ambitions and ties to the West, while Beijing is asserting territorial claims in the East China Sea, South China Sea and remote Himalayan passes.

The two leaders addressed an informal meeting yesterday of leaders of the Brics nations - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - which was held alongside the G-20 summit. There were no plans for a direct sit-down. They told the Brics gathering that members must remain committed to an open global economy and fighting climate change. They did not mention the acrimonious border row.

The two countries disagree over who started the most recent skirmish and what happens next, with both sides declining to back down.

Some China observers say Indian troops crossed the border - around the time Mr Modi met United States President Donald Trump in Washington, and ahead of the G-20 - to remind the world that India is able to contain Chinese ambitions. For China, it is particularly sensitive as it comes before Beijing hosts a major Brics summit in September endorsed by Mr Xi.

"It has to be seen as part of a larger pattern, where they are becoming assertive, and they are getting into this habit of enforcing their claims that are contested, and sometimes imagined, disregarding the views of others," said Mr Ashok Kantha, a former Indian ambassador to China and head of the Institute for Chinese Studies in New Delhi.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'Sino-Indian border row raises tension'. Print Edition | Subscribe