China Links U.S. to India Border Fight, Framing Clash as Proxy Conflict

The China-India border conflict is rumbling on, with talks aimed at solving the Himalayan standoff thus far producing little progress as both sides reinforce their positions along the remote frontier and prepare for further clashes.

The two sides have a long history of conflict over the porous border, even fighting an extended war there in 1962 which killed thousands of soldiers. Though confrontations and even skirmishes are common, the outbreak of violence in June marked the first deadly clash since 1962.

Both sides accuse the other of violating the Line of Actual Control—the disputed demarcation line that marks the border. Satellite images and Indian media reports suggest that Chinese troops have moved beyond their previous posts along the LOAC, establishing new forward positions in what India considers its territory.

While Beijing and New Delhi condemn each other, China is also seeking to frame the conflict as part of its wider confrontation with the U.S., which has been supercharged by the coronavirus pandemic.

India has a long history of non-alignment. Despite warm relations between President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India will likely seek to meet the China challenge on its own terms rather than be dragged into the wider U.S.-China face-off.

India is a major weapons purchaser and has been increasing its consumption of U.S. products; something Trump is keen to communicate to voters. But India still buys significantly more weapons from Russia, for example.

And there are no mutual defense treaties between India and the U.S. though both sides are working to improve defense and security cooperation, particularly focusing on weapons deals.

U.S. lawmakers and Trump administration officials have urged dialogue and restraint along the border, but have been clear in blaming Beijing for the violence. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused Chinese forces of instigating the clashes and engaging in "unacceptable" and "incredibly aggressive action."

Chinese officials have largely maintained a diplomatic line on the border clashes, urging de-escalation and negotiation between the two sides. But foreign ministry spokespeople—who take daily press briefings and lead Beijing's response to foreign affairs—have hinted that Washington, D.C. should stay out of the conflict.

After reports that Trump and Modi discussed border tensions in June, spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: "There have been sound mechanisms and channels of communication between China and India, and the two sides are capable of properly resolving relevant issues through dialogue and consultation. There is no need for any third party to intervene."

When asked about the potential for closer U.S.-India collaboration in July, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: "We hope and believe that India, as an important force as we head toward a multipolar world, will be able to maintain its independent foreign policy and safeguard regional peace and stability through concrete actions, and play a constructive role in international affairs."

Though diplomats have been cautious, Chinese state media have been more open in warning against closer U.S.-Indian ties and accusing the Trump administration of seeking to exploit New Delhi to put more pressure on China.

Beijing-backed newspapers have continued a steady drumbeat of anti-U.S. sentiment since the June border clash, building on regular attacks on Washington over coronavirus, the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights concerns over Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and American efforts to undermine Chinese tech companies.

These newspapers are trying to roll the Indian border problem into the wider U.S. confrontation, which state media has characterized as a racist and doomed attempt to maintain American supremacy.

Even before the deadly clash on June 15, state media was warning that U.S. lawmakers were eyeing the simmering confrontation. "Some excitable politicians in the United States seem eager to whip up hostilities between the two giant neighbors," claimed China Daily—owned by the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda department—on June 4.

The next day, the nationalistic Global Times newspaper—owned by the People's Daily, which is the official publication of the CCP—warned: "India should not be fooled by the U.S. Washington is keen on placing a wedge between countries and drawing countries to its own side. But this serves the U.S.' strategic pressure on China, instead of other countries' geopolitical interests."

"Washington looks forward to the China-India dispute in order to gain from it," Global Times added. Days after the deadly clash, the newspaper said that any U.S. support for India would "worsen India's ties with China, and make India dedicate itself to serving Washington's interests."

Later in June, China Daily noted closer ties between Washington and New Delhi, pointing to agreements on logistics exchanges and communication compatibility in 2016 and 2018. It accused India of becoming "more provocative in handling border issues with China" after the 2016 deal was signed.

"If New Delhi thinks it can benefit from colluding with the U.S. to contain China, or take advantage of Beijing's tensions with Washington to play some tricks on issues on which the two neighbors have for decades kept an equilibrium, albeit a delicate one, it will find it ends up paying the bill alone," the newspaper wrote.

Two days later, China Daily said Washington "considers India as a major player in its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China," citing multiple major weapons deals and support for New Delhi from the Trump administration.

In July, Global Times said U.S. relations with India were part of America's wider effort to contain Beijing across Asia. "Washington's support will not help them win their territorial claims," the newspaper said of Asian nations. "This is the geopolitical trap Washington has laid for Asia. Whoever jumps in will pay the price."

And now with border talks stalled, Global Times has turned to blaming the U.S. "India has not taken negotiations as the main path, but pinned its hopes on strengthening ties with external forces, including the U.S., to exert pressure on China," it wrote in an op-ed published on Monday.

"India has gone astray playing geopolitics with China. Countries like the U.S. will never really offer a hand to India, but rather take advantage of the South Asian giant."

India, China, US, border, proxy, conflict
An Indian fighter jet flies over a mountain range in Leh, the joint capital of the Indian union territory of Ladakh bordering China, on September 2, 2020. MOHD ARHAAN ARCHER/AFP via Getty Images/Getty
China Links U.S. to India Border Fight, Framing Clash as Proxy Conflict | World