There is a petulance about the relationship between India and China that is starting to get under my skin, and no, it’s not just the after-effects of the horrific sunburn I managed to inflict on myself in northern Kerala. Today, there were reports that Chinese officers stopped Indian workers from building a road in the remote Ladakh region near the border, even though it’s on their side of the fence and part of a rural regeneration scheme.
Part of the reason for these moments of idiocy is the ongoing, and painfully involved, dispute over where the border lies. However, in the hands of the media, these minor tangles always end up taking on much broader geopolitical significance. It is certainly true that such spats have become much more marked since India started cozying up to the US under Bush (and continuing under Obama), a point made by an analyst in this FT article.
However, the media is all too quick to read a serious threat into what are essentially little diplomatic nudges. Both sides like to keep the pressure 0n – India painting China as aggressive and totalitarian; China offering little reminders that it is the primary regional power. It’s childish, but it has yet to present a real threat of conflict or long-term breakdown in the relationship, something which the media reports often fail to reflect. Focusing on the petulance of these actions would lessen the risk of undue escalation.