Which is stronger India or Australia

Sieren's China: Nerve-racking confrontation on the roof of the world

After 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives in a fight with Chinese troops on the controversial border in the western Himalayas in mid-June, Delhi and Beijing wisely decided to withdraw their military from the hot zone.

It is clear, however, that this can only be temporary. Neither side wants to give in. Beijing claims Indian troops invaded Chinese territory and "provoked and attacked" Chinese soldiers in the process. Delhi, on the other hand, insists that Chinese soldiers crossed the demarcation line in the Ladakh region further to the west in May. The Chinese did not confirm figures about their own losses.

Unexplained borderline

Since the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, which China won without significant territorial gains, the partly unexplained course of the 3500-kilometer border has been a source of conflict that has flared up again and again. For the two Asian great powers, it is not just a matter of principle, but also of the strategic control of resources, above all water. Important glaciers are in the area.

In 1996, Delhi and Beijing agreed to stop using live ammunition in the border area. A clear sign that both nuclear powers have no interest in an escalation and also the reason why the soldiers are now attacking each other with sticks, stones and fists. However, both sides have also deployed more troops in the region in the past few weeks.

The fact that people have died for the first time since 1975 is tragic and a step backwards. Nevertheless, a war remains unlikely now: Both sides continue to talk to each other at the level of two-star generals. Zhang Shuili, the spokesman for the Chinese high command of the troops stationed on the western borders, speaks of "talks as the correct way of dialogue" to which one should now "return".

The satellite image from June 22nd, showing how big the checkpoints are in the impassable mountain region

Economic consequences of the conflict

India, the militarily, economically and politically weaker of the two countries, is already reacting with economic sanctions: 59 Chinese apps such as WeChat or TikTok have now been banned because they endangered the "national security and sovereignty" of India. The Association of Hotel and Restaurant Operators in Delhi does not even want to accept Chinese guests in its around 3,000 establishments. For the time being, however, this is more of a rhetorical threat: most of the city's hotels are closed anyway due to the Corona measures. The Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi, which has a market share of 30 percent in India, reports that the conflict has so far had no impact on sales.

DW columnist Frank Sieren

The basic problem: India is increasingly on the defensive economically. The influence of the Chinese economy in India is increasing. The trade deficit with China was $ 48 billion last year. And Beijing is working more and more closely with India's neighbors - with enemies as well as friends - within the framework of the "Belt and Road" initiative. Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka welcome the Chinese commitment because it creates a counterweight to their Indian neighbors in the region and gives them more room to negotiate to defend their own interests. Pakistan, India's hated adversary, is benefiting in particular from China's investments - including when building its army.

The corona crisis could make India even more dependent, as China recovers from the consequences faster than India. While China is still anticipating growth, albeit small, it is likely that the Indian economy will contract for the first time in 40 years. Overall, India lags behind the People's Republic in terms of infrastructure, education, health and international competitiveness. China's economy - measured in terms of purchasing power - is almost 240 percent larger. In addition, India's population is growing by 1.1 percent annually, China by only 0.5. This increases the burden of caring for more people.

Do not jeopardize the Asian free trade agreement

Japan, Vietnam, Australia and other countries are now calling for the negotiations on the Asian free trade agreement not to be delayed. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) becomes the largest free trade agreement in the world. The participating countries Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the ten Asean countries Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore have already agreed with China. There are still unanswered questions between Delhi and Beijing.

In November, China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi were still hand in hand

The Indians fear that Chinese products will flood the Indian market due to the massive reduction in tariffs and that local suppliers will be permanently out of the running. The other Asian partner states, however, fear that China would be too strong in a RECP that would be signed without the Indians. Even without India, RCEP encompasses a free trade area, which accounts for almost a third of the global gross domestic product of around 17 trillion US dollars. That is bigger than any other trading bloc in the world, including the EU. "To be part of RCEP is in India's interests and would bring prosperity to the entire region. We will continue to work towards its return," said a representative of the Japanese government last week. In a statement from the 15 RCEP states, it says: "We would like to emphasize that RCEP remains open to India." This puts a lot of pressure on Delhi.

It is good that Asians are now obviously able and willing to resolve their conflicts on their own. Neither the US nor the EU play a role as mediator in this conflict.

Our columnist Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.