China and India Won’t Start a Big War Over Their Border Dispute

Indian activists of Natinal Panthers Party shout anti-Chinese slogans during a protest near the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi on July 7.
MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

China and India Won’t Start a Big War Over Their Border Dispute

There is something much different ahead for these two nations.

Among snow-capped mountains, the borders of China, India and Bhutan meet. For the past two months, in a small plateau surrounded by those mountains, a few hundred Chinese and Indian troops have faced each other.

They sit and wait, a few hundred feet apart. Both governments have told the soldiers not to back down.

The soldiers are there because China decided to extend an unpaved road through the plateau on June 16. Bhutan—a nation of only 800,000 people—claims the territory as its own. China—a nation of 1.3 billion people—also claims it. India, the third party, backs Bhutan’s claim and is providing it with defense.

So far, it has been a war of words. India says it won’t be pushed around by China. China says “[t]he Indian military can choose to return to its territory with dignity, or be kicked out of the area by Chinese soldiers.”

On July 4, China’s government-backed Global Times published an editorial with the title: “India Will Suffer Worse Losses Than 1962 If It Incites Border Clash.” It was referring to the border clash that occurred in a similar area in 1962. The Chinese launched an offensive while the United States and Russia were distracted with the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the single month of fighting, over 1,000 Indians were killed.

“We firmly believe that the face-off in the Donglang area will end up with the Indian troops in retreat,” it said. “This time, we must teach New Delhi a bitter lesson.”

International media have taken the dispute seriously. Here are just a few of the headlines. From the Sydney Morning Herald: “The China-India Clash That Could Lead to Nuclear War.” From the South China Morning Post: “China and India Are Reportedly Preparing for Full-scale War Over a Himalayan Border Dispute.” From the DailyO: “China Wants War With India, Make No Mistake.”

Understanding why China and India are so invested in this border dispute requires a little knowledge of the region’s geography. China and India share a number of long borders with each other, but in some ways, they are completely disconnected. As Geopolitical Future’s George Friedman put it, “The Himalayas separate them almost as much as an ocean would. … Sending and supplying major military forces into and across the Himalayas is almost impossible.”

That’s why the 1962 border dispute lasted only a month. Mt. Everest is less than 125 miles away. Many troops died, not because of weapons, but because of the freezing cold.

If there’s a chance that either nation could set up shop beyond the Himalayas, there’s a chance that they could launch an offensive without having to even cross them. So when China starts building a road in Bhutan’s claimed territory, India gets worried.

There’s also the “Chicken Neck.” This is what Indians call the thin strip of land—17 miles wide at its narrowest point—that connects its northeastern states to the mainland. Over 45 million Indians live in the huge section of land past the “Chicken Neck.” It also contains the Brahmaputra River, which runs all the way through Bangladesh and into the Indian Ocean.

The recent border standoff is close to the “Chicken Neck,” and India wants no chance of it being cut off.

In all this, how close are India and China to all-out war?

“If China engages in a military offensive against India, New Delhi will take all necessary measures,” Dr. Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore told the South China Morning Post. “Why only a border war? It could escalate to a full-scale India-China war.”

When Indian-Chinese scholar Jeff M. Smith was asked if he thought the deadlock could devolve into war, he told the New York Times, “Yes I do—and I don’t say that lightly.”

The Trumpet views things differently. Much of our analysis stems from the Bible-based predictions of Herbert W. Armstrong published in his newsmagazine, the Plain Truth. One of his most prominent forecasts was of a huge power bloc led by Russia and China, called the “kings of the east.” Other Asian nations are likely to join this rising bloc.

A February-March 1985 issue of the Plain Truth told readers, “However it happens, Russia and Asian neighbors will ultimately find themselves in some degree joining forces out of necessity …” (emphasis added). Our booklet Russia and China in Prophecy says: “India—with its population of more than 1.2 billion people—is almost certain to join the Asian bloc that is prophesied to congeal in the end time.”

With this in mind, the Trumpet can tell its readers that, in the end, China and India will almost surely put aside their differences and border disputes to cooperate on bigger tasks. Perhaps this border dispute will erupt into clashes like those of 1962. In the very short term, anything is possible.

Beyond that, whether it be an alliance of convenience, or a symptom of the slowly-growing economic ties, India and China will be allies. Don’t expect China and India to start a big war over this border crisis. When they are involved in war, they likely will be on the same side.