Cross-border vandalism

Dropping canned food past the expiry date, painting graffiti on boulders—and that we should know now

First, relax. It would be a huge strategic blunder for China to get into a military conflict with India—less initiate one—for two big reasons.

One, nuclear deterrence imposes limits to how much a conventional military conflict can escalate. Even a 1962-like invasion is highly unlike in 2009, because even if the PLA were to somehow pooh-pooh India’s vastly improved conventional defences, China is highly unlikely to want to test whether India’s commitment to nuclear no-first-use is rhetorical or real.

Two, a direct military conflict—whether or not initiated by China—would have the inevitable consequence of pushing India unequivocally into an alliance with the United States. Now, if you are a strategist—of whatever stripe—in Beijing, why would you want to do that? A military conflict with India would not only consolidate two of China’s biggest strategic adversaries but also completely blow the myth of a “peaceful rise” that is behind the success of Chinese diplomacy in East and Central Asia.

With that behind us for now, let’s ask why China is dumping expired canned food off helicopters, and why someone used red paint to deface rocks on the Indian side of the border in Ladakh? After the initial media outrage in India, both the Indian foreign ministry and the armed forces are downplaying reports of these incursions. China, unhelpfully as always, has totally denied that the incursions even happened. It is important to note that these incursions are not recent but have been occurring for several months. Even the notorious helicopter flight took place in early July. Why did the metaphorical solid waste hit the rotor now, when an Indian military delegation is on a goodwill tour of China?