Asia Politics

China, India unlikely to turn to the U.S. for mediation over border tensions

Share
Key Points
  • Both China and India are unlikely to turn to the United States for mediation over an ongoing border dispute high in the Himalayas, Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute, said.
  • The two Asian powerhouses are locked in a bitter standoff in the remote Ladakh region in the Western Himalayas. 
  •  Indian media reported that Indian and Chinese military officials will hold high-level talks on Saturday to ease tensions. 
Indian army trucks drive along the Srinagar-Leh National Highway at Sonmarg some 89 Kms of Srinagar on May 28, 2020.
Tauseef Mustafa | AFP | Getty Images

Both China and India are unlikely to turn to the United States for mediation over an ongoing border dispute high in the Himalayas, a political commentator told CNBC. 

The two Asian powerhouses are locked in a bitter standoff in the remote Ladakh region in the Western Himalayas. Indian media reported that Indian and Chinese military officials will hold high-level talks on Saturday to ease tensions. 

"I think both sides would not like any kind of mediation," Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Thursday. 

"Even though India and China have the world's longest unresolved boundary in the Himalayas, in many ways the two countries had a very good record of ensuring that these kinds of tensions don't spill into conflict," Dhume said. 

He referred to a standoff between the two countries in another disputed border area in 2017 — a plateau known as Donglang in China and Doklam in India. 

"During the Doklam crisis, (China and India) sometimes have sort of pushing and shoving, they have troop build-ups, they have disagreements," Dhume said. "But, they have also used diplomatic means to deescalate in the past, and certainly, neither of them would be looking for the United States to intervene." 

India and China's border is represented by a demarcation line called the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

What happened?

While border skirmishes between India and China are not new, the latest stand-off is due to India building a strategic road through the Galwan Valley in Ladakh, connecting the region to an airstrip, the Associated Press reported.

China objects to that move. India considers Ladakh as one of its union territories. 

Tensions escalated in recent weeks that led to thousands of soldiers from either side facing off just a few hundred meters from each other in the area, according to the AP. 

Tweet: We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!

President Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. is "ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate" the China-India border dispute, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also criticized Beijing

"All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India's normal patrolling patterns," the Indian foreign ministry said during a media briefing on May 21

China's foreign ministry has said during multiple media briefings that at present, "the overall situation in the China-India border areas is stable and controllable." Spokesperson Zhao Lijian also said on Wednesday that there was "no need for any third party to intervene."

Earlier this week on a phone call, Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the India-China border issue

Catching up with China

Dhume said that the general consensus among experts is that on the Chinese side of the un-demarcated border, there has been a lot of infrastructure build-up, such as building better road links. India, for its part, has been playing catch-up.

"So, now it is trying to build roads, trying to strengthen its own road network on its side," Dhume said, adding that when construction takes place in disputed areas where either country feels strategically threatened, tensions flare up. 

He explained that it's unlikely that either side would reach a conclusion during this weekend's meeting, given that past standoffs have taken longer to be resolved. 

"It tends to be a sort of messy process, you have local commanders on the ground, and then you have the leadership both in Beijing and Delhi," Dhume said. "There are a lot of moving parts involved, so I think it's good that they're speaking. I personally would be very surprised if this deescalates very quickly. I think it will take some more time."

Border disputes

There are two main territories that are disputed between the Asian giants. First, India considers Arunachal Pradesh, lying east of Bhutan, as one of its states while China claims the area as part of southern Tibet. 

The other area of contention is over Aksai Chin, which New Delhi sees as part of its union territory of Ladakh and making up parts of the greater Kashmir region, which is also a disputed territory. But China believes the zone belongs to its Xinjiang and Tibet autonomous regions and currently administers the area. 

In 1962, both countries fought a war over the disputed territories.