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Conflicts between States – Rivalry between China and India

Every year the Heidelberg Institute for Conflict Research1 publishes a Conflict Barometer
which describes recent trends in conflict development, escalations and settlements. In 2004 they
found about 230 political conflicts, 3 wars and 33 serious crises with a high potential of violence.
90% of these conflicts are to be find in developing countries like Asia and Africa. These conflicts
not only exist because of poor policy from governments or a lack of resources (like water or oil),
but also because of the inability to integrate people from other nations into our society. As Prof.
Galtung already stated in his book, there are 200 states in this world, but about 2000 different
nations. That means every government has to deal with different attitudes, behavior, culture and
sometimes different languages. But often people don´t want to integrate another culture into their
society because they are anxious of new and different things. On the other side people also don´t
want to integrate themselves because they don´t want their culture assimilated.

Our next conflict is a very special one. It does not just even include these aspects of
connecting different cultures, it also deals with two big states which have a high potential of
conflict. We want to describe the border conflict between China and India. To be honest the
question of integrating different cultures into societies is a secondary aspect in this conflict. But
after we described the whole conflict we will see that it is also an important one.

To give you a better view on this conflict we want to show you a map which makes it easier
to understand the border conflict.

As we already stated, the two main actors are China and India. Both states are new
superpowers in this region. There economic growth is almost unbelievable for “old” states like the
US and in Europe. Also their ability to use their enormous quantity of “human resources” is
fascinating. So you can see both countries as competitors over the hegemony in this region or,
probably in the near future, in the world.
The basis for the border conflict between India and China is the inability of these countries
to integrate different cultures, which settle along the border, to integrate into their society. For India
this means their conflict with Pakistan about Kashmir and for China the interstate conflict about
India´s conflict with Pakistan about the Kashmir Region is well known: Both countries,
India and Pakistan, lay claim to the Kashmir Region. Since both countries are independent they see
Kashmir as a part of their landscape. India because of the fact that the Maharaja (Hari Singh)
wanted to see Kashmir as a part of India. But 80% of people in these region are muslim and wanted
to be a part of Pakistan. At the moment this conflict is not solved.
China´s conflict about Tibet is also a long lasting one. On the one side China who thinks that
Tibet is part of their state, on the other side the government of Tibet who sees Tibet as an
independent country, occupied by the chinese government.
These two conflicts provide the basis for the conflict between India and China.

But there are also other facts that play an important part:
 Beijing refuses to acknowledge the de facto border — demarcated by the British empire —
and claims almost the entirety of the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part
of its territory. China accuses India of occupying 90,000 square kilometers of chinese

 "India accuses China of illegally occupying 43,180 square kilometers of territory belonging
to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, including 5,180 square kilometers ceded to China
by Pakistan."2
 "Recently, Indian security experts have raised alarm over China's alleged military build-up
near India's north-east, while India's Indo-Tibetan Border Police has revealed that there have
been 141 border incursions by the Chinese in the past year."3
 India is also concerned about China´s increasing military security.

What we can see now, is that there is a high potential of mistrust between these two states.

According to the ABC – Triangle by Johan Galtung, we find out some very interesting facts:

Attitude: In this conflict it matters how China wants to see India in the long run (as a
worthy global power, or as an antagonist that must be mired in South Asia). This decision is
important for the whole region because it is question about peace or war.

Behavior: In the past China has leaned towards the latter approach; it has been arming
Pakistan to bog India down. India on the other side, supported the Dalai Lama and the
exilgovernment of Tibet.

Contradiction: "The way things are evolving, particularly with continuing economic
globalization, that may not continue to be the case. Both India and China realize that they need
peace to stay on their high growth trajectories."4

Arunachal Pradesh : One Possible Path to Transcendence Among the Himalayas

In the remainder of the essay, we would like to suggest a specific solution to the India/China

border dispute, and to do it in the specific case of the area where the tensions are the highest:

Arunachal Pradesh . This will allow for us to focus on a specific case while, as we will suggest at

the conclusion of this essay, offering a model for resolving similar conflicts not only between China

and India, but also involving the cases of Kashmir and Tibet, both of which also affect the

China/India relationship.

While it might seem tempting to suggest a Solomonic solution to the issue of the

India/China border in Arunachal Pradesh and propose that the countries enter into binding

arbitration with the United Nations (or some other mediator) to draw a definitive border between

the two countries, this would not be a transcendent solution to the conflict. While such a resolution

would be better than open war, it wouldn’t solve the underlying problem. On the contrary, it would

merely replicate the dynamics that caused the problem in the first place.

Specifically, it would do violence to the right of self-determination. This is what caused the

conflict in the first place. The disputed border was drawn not by India or China (and certainly not

by the natives of Arunachal Pradesh), but by Great Britain. The border itself and the conflict arising

from it is part of the aftermath of Western interference in the region—the echoes of colonialism. To

slice up Arunachal Pradesh in any manner, even if in a way that both China and India found

acceptable, would simply repeat the mistake of allowing hegemonic powers dominion over land and

people who may not wish to be under the control of either.

As Prof. Galtung notes, the first question a peace worker must ask when seeking a

transcendent resolution to a conflict is what are the legitimate and illegitimate goals. In this case,

the right of the natives of Arunachal Pradesh to self determination is sacrosanct. To have other

parties conspire together to draw an arbitrary line saying to whom they and their land belong would
be an act of violence, even if this conspiracy was bloodless one done under the aegis of

international law.

For this reason, the conflict bears a much closer resemblance to that involving Norway,

Denmark, Greenland, and the Inuit natives of Greenland than it does the Equador/Peru border

dispute (which it might seem is more closely parallel at first glance). As with Greenland, Arunachal

Pradesh has a native population. In fact, it has many. Dozens of languages are spoken there, and

many religions are practiced. The inhabitants come from a variety of tribal and ethnic backgrounds.

What they have in common is that they cannot be reduced to being ethnically “Indian” or


For this reason, the notion that the dispute could be resolved through a referendum is also

probably mistaken. With a more homogenous population, one might imagine an election taking

place in which those living in Arunachal Pradesh (not including the tens of thousands of members

of the Indian army stationed there) could vote as to whether they wanted to be part of India or

China. It is clear given the existence of separatist groups in the region that many in the region do

not particularly want to be part of either country. Even if a majority voted to be part of one country

or the other, the deep ethnic divisions within this small region would likely cause an increase in

tension rather than a decrease. While still better than war, this solution is not optimal.

In the case of Arunachal Pradesh , the conflict emerges from the attitudes and behaviors of

India and China. A solution will need to offer new alternatives in these two categories to succeed.

The attitude of both countries seems to be that the disputed areas must belong to one country or the

other. This leads to counterproductive behavior in which both countries protest (and in some cases

prevent) the development of the disputed areas because (so the thinking goes) by allowing their

opponent to develop the area, they are allowing the opponent to “win” influence. Since the

assumption is that influence is a zero-sum game, that means that they are “losing” influence when

the other wins. The result is a lack of development in the area which could help China and India,

and in particular the native population of the area. It is a lose-lose-lose situation.

A more ambitious and creative solution would be for China and India to choose not to be

defined by the past and its associations with Western interference in the region and its associated

views about the binary nature of ownership (ours vs. theirs). In this solution, the countries would

acknowledge that their ongoing tension stems not from a true conflict of interests as much as from

the inherited attitudes of the past. Specifically, the notion of a border marking Arunachal Pradesh

as either part of India or part of China would be done away with. Instead, Arunachal Pradesh

would be a self-governing region that would have strong, codified relationships with both India and

China. In effect, it would become a province/state of both countries, able to determine its own

policies within its borders and veto power over any development within it by either India or China.

Yet, both India and China would be free to propose projects for development, and both countries

would bear some financial responsibility for the maintenance of the territory. Arunachal Pradesh

would also be a no-military zone, with the armed forces of either country not allowed inside its


Because so much of the dispute over the relatively small area of Arunachal Pradesh comes

down to symbolism, it is essential that this solution be framed rhetorically in a way that gives the

solution more symbolic import for both China and India than ownership of the disputed territory

itself would carry. In this case, the solution could be framed as a forward-looking denial of out-of-

date and foreign (i.e., Western) concepts. Both governments could present this solution as evidence

that it is China and India who can show the way toward a better life in the 21st century. Because

Arunachal Pradesh includes many ethnicities and also combines environmental beauty with

environmental resources, it could become a test case of how to resolve/avoid conflicts in areas

inhabited by members of different cultures and how to reconcile the desire to preserve natural

beauty of the land with the need to use resources to provide for a better life for the people who live

on the land. By showing that through cooperation they can create a situation in Arunachal Pradesh ,

a sense of natioanl pride in both countries could be maintained in that they were cooperating to

show the rest of the world (most importantly, the West) how these central challenges to society at
the beginning of the 21st century could be solved. By cooperating, India and China would assert

the ability of Asia to not only equal the West, but surpass it—or perhaps transcend it—by showing

the world how old-fashioned Western binaries could be deconstructed. In other words, no one

would lose face. India and China could both claim victory, not over each other, but over the past,

particularly the violent legacy of colonial adventuring by Western powers.

Perhaps China could take the lead in developing the infrastructure of Arunachal Pradesh ,

while India took the lead in building up the education and agricultural system. Natives of the area

would be a citizen of Arunachal Pradesh , but could also claim citizenship of either China or India if

they so chose. The hydroelectric power generated in the region (one of its chief resources) would

be available to both China and India (after meeting the needs of the native population, of course).

The same would be true of the agricultural output of the area. Chinese and Indian citizens could

both enter the area for recreation or business visits, fostering a greater sense of mutual trust and


Internally, Arunachal Pradesh could be divided (as it already is) into districts. These

districts could be altered from their current borders to extent necessary to allow for various ethnic

groups to have a maximum amount of cultual autonomy and ability to self-govern on a local level.

Such a move might (in the most optimistic scenario) serve as a model to resolve parallel

disputes, first between India and China, and then among other states, such as that involving the

Kashmir region and Tibet. Eventually, such a solution might become commonplace, offering a

solution to border disputes in which the area in question contains a population that is native to the

area and doesn’t necessarily have a unified opinion as to what nation, if any, they want to identify.

Admittedly, this is highly optimistic, to the point of perhaps being unrealistic. Yet, Prof.

Galtung points out that creativity—a willingness to suggest and pursue unconventional solutions—

is a prerequisite to transcending such conflicts. The above solution, while asking both countries to

give up many of their existing attitudes and assumptions about what is in their national interest,

offers concrete and specific advantages, as well as symbolic resonance, that make it worth pursuing.