Strategic Motivations Behind China’s Aggression at the Line of Actual Control

 By Ashu Maan
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Abstract

The Line of Actual Control (LAC) has emerged as a focal point of geopolitical tension. China’s assertive actions in the region raise significant concerns among neighbouring countries and the international community. This article delves into the strategic motivations driving China’s activities along the LAC, transcending conventional military explanations to provide a comprehensive understanding of the underlying factors shaping China’s behaviour in the region. Drawing upon a multidimensional analysis, this article explores geopolitical manoeuvring, territorial expansion objectives, domestic political considerations, and strategic messaging as key drivers behind China’s actions at the LAC. By examining the intricate interplay of these factors, this article aims to shed light on the complex dynamics shaping China’s strategic calculus in the border region and its implications for regional stability, security, and the evolving geopolitical landscape.

Keywords : LAC, Multipolarity, Territorial Dispute, China 

Introduction

India and China have been embroiled in a territorial dispute since the Communist Party of China (CPC) wrested power and founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The dispute still prevails after a war and continued skirmishes along the LAC. While China resolved territorial disputes with 12 of its 14 neighbours, it could not reach a settlement with India and Bhutan. India and China signed border agreements in 1993, 1996, 2005, and 2013 with mechanisms to resolve confrontations and transgressions. Albeit the agreements kept the LAC largely peaceful, there has been an uptick in China’s aggression since 2013. Initially, China’s aggression led to standoffs and minor skirmishes. However, after the 2017 Doklam standoff, China’s  belligerent actions at the LAC  culminated in the deadly Galwan valley clash in June 2020. There are several underlying reasons for China’s aggressive behaviour that include India’s push for border infrastructure, China’s aims of offsetting India’s tactical advantage due to terrains at various places along the LAC, and India’s modernisation of Armed Forces. This analysis focuses on China’s strategic motivations that educate its decision to behave belligerently at the LAC.

Key Drivers of China’s Aggression

The underlying drivers of China’s actions are:

  • Geopolitical Maneuvering: China’s activities at the LAC are driven by its broader geopolitical objectives, including the desire to assert dominance in the region and expand its influence beyond its borders. Under Xi Jinping, China’s geopolitical behaviour has changed into carefully calibrated aggressiveness to advance its fundamental interest of becoming a “Great/Global Power”(Mirza, 2020). Theoretically, “the most powerful nations want to achieve hegemony within their region while ensuring that no other great power takes control of an adjacent region. To maximize its share of global power and eventually take control of the system is the ultimate objective of any major power” (Mearsheimer, 2005). The latest example of this theory is the United States, which could only become a global power after it ensured that it had militarily subservient neighbours and no other major power was operating in its periphery. By asserting control over disputed territories along the LAC, China aims to reshape the geopolitical landscape in its favour, strengthen its strategic position vis-à-vis neighbouring countries, and project power in the region.
  • Territorial Expansion Objectives: Territorial expansion is a fundamental driver behind China’s actions at the LAC. China’s incursions into disputed territories along the border reflect its efforts to incrementally advance its territorial claims, assert sovereignty over contested areas, and consolidate control over strategically significant regions. By expanding its territorial control along the LAC, China seeks to enhance its security, protect its borders, and establish precedents for future territorial claims.
  • Domestic Political Considerations: China’s actions at the LAC are also influenced by domestic political factors, including nationalism, regime legitimacy, and public opinion. The Chinese leadership often uses territorial disputes as a means to rally domestic support, bolster its legitimacy(Sahoo, 2021), and demonstrate strength and resolve in defending China’s territorial integrity. By portraying itself as a defender of China’s sovereignty and national interests, the Chinese government seeks to enhance its domestic legitimacy and maintain social stability.
  • Strategic Messaging: China’s activities at the LAC are accompanied by strategic messaging aimed at shaping perceptions, deterrence, and signalling intentions to regional powers, neighbouring countries, and the international community. Through its actions along the border, China seeks to assert its strategic interests, deter potential adversaries, and project an image of strength and resolve. Strategic messaging plays a crucial role in shaping perceptions of China’s power, intentions, and capabilities In the region, influencing the behaviour of other actors and shaping the strategic environment along the LAC.

Implications of China’s Belligerent Behaviour at the LAC

China’s aggressive actions at the border with India have significant implications for regional stability, security, and the evolving geopolitical landscape, which are as follows:

  • Heightened Tensions and Escalation Risks: China’s aggressive actions at the border heighten tensions and increase the risk of escalation, potentially leading to military confrontations and conflict. Heightened military activity and confrontations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) raise the stakes of miscalculation, misunderstandings, and unintended escalation, posing significant risks to regional stability and security.
  • Impact on Bilateral Relations: China’s aggressive actions strain bilateral relations with India, undermining trust, cooperation, and diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes peacefully. The deterioration of bilateral ties contributes to a negative feedback loop, exacerbating tensions and hindering efforts to promote stability, security, and cooperation in the region. Before the Galwan clashes, the two countries had followed a policy where the territorial dispute was seen separately from the larger ties. However, after the deadly clashes. India has clarified that the border issue and the future of bilateral ties with China are inextricably linked, leading to a standstill relationship (Chaudhary, 2020).
  • Regional Power Dynamics: China’s aggressive actions at the border with India influence regional power dynamics and shape perceptions of China’s behaviour and intentions among neighbouring countries and regional stakeholders. China’s assertive posture and territorial assertiveness raise concerns among regional powers about its intentions, leading to increased security competition and strategic hedging strategies among neighbouring countries.
  • Impact on Indo-Pacific Security Architecture: China’s aggressive actions at the border with India have broader implications for the Indo-Pacific security architecture, shaping strategic alignments, military postures, and security partnerships in the region. The border tensions contribute to the recalibration of security policies and the formation of security coalitions to counter China’s assertiveness and preserve regional stability and security.
  • Global Ramifications: China’s aggressive actions at the border with India reverberate beyond the region, influencing global perceptions of China’s rise, its assertive behaviour, and its impact on international security and order (Kurlantzick, 2022). The border tensions contribute to growing concerns about China’s revisionist tendencies, its willingness to challenge the status quo, and the implications of its rise for global stability and governance.

Conclusion

To sum up, the border dispute between India and China is a complicated issue with many facets that affect regional security, stability, and the dynamic geopolitical environment. China’s aggressive border measures with India have strained bilateral relations, raised the possibility of escalation, and exacerbated tensions, hindering diplomatic efforts to settle disagreements peacefully and building confidence. In addition to having an effect on bilateral ties, these moves have also changed the balance of power in the region and shaped how neighbours and other regional players view China’s goals and actions. Furthermore, the border conflicts have broader ramifications for the Indo-Pacific security framework, contributing to the recalibration of security policies and the formation of security coalitions aimed at countering China’s assertiveness and preserving regional stability and security. Notably, the global ramifications of the border dispute highlight growing concerns about China’s rise, its assertive behaviour, and the implications for global stability and governance. Effective management of these tensions requires sustained diplomatic engagement, conflict resolution mechanisms, and a commitment to upholding international norms and principles of peaceful coexistence. Ultimately, resolving the Indo-China border dispute is essential for promoting regional stability, security, and prosperity.

References

Chaudhury, D. R. (2020, September 7). Can’t separate border, future of ties: Author S Jaishankar on China. The Economic Times. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/cant-separate-border-future-of-ties-author-jaishankar-on-china/articleshow/77966301.cms?from=mdr.

Kurlantzick, J. (2022, January 24). Why China’s global image is getting worse. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/why-chinas-global-image-getting-worse.

Mearsheimer, J. (2005, November 18). “The rise of China will not be peaceful at all.” Mearsheimer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://www.mearsheimer.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/The-Australian-November-18-2005.pdf.

Mirza, M. N., Hashemi, A., & Malik, A. I. (2020). IS CHINA PURSUING a ‘REGIONAL’ HEGEMONY? STRATEGIC SOURCES OF CHINA’SASSERTIVE-CUM-BENEVOLENT BEHAVIOUR. Humanities & Social Sciences Reviews8(6), 91–98. https://doi.org/10.18510/hssr.2020.8610.

Sahoo, N. (2021, July 12). Chinese nationalism, with socialist characteristics? orfonline.org. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from https://www.orfonline.org/research/chinese-nationalism-socialist-characteristics.