On the roof of the world, young soldiers from two nuclear-armed powers are killing each other with stones, rods and their fists. Details are murky. We know that 20 Indian soldiers died in a clash with the People’s Liberation Army on the “Line of Actual Control” in Ladakh that divides the two Asian giants; it’s unclear how many casualties China may have suffered. But one thing is certain: The few inches or feet China may gain in each such incident isn’t worth the ground it’s losing in the larger Sino-Indian relationship.
Exactly three years ago, in June 2017, the Indian and Chinese armies stared each other down in a similar confrontation at Doklam, in the eastern section of their long and disputed border. The trigger for both clashes may have been similar: road-building by one side or another. In the impassable and sparsely populated high Himalaya, the advantage goes to whichever military can lay down the roads needed to quickly reinforce sections of weakness. Both sides are now able to afford more border infrastructure — and thus there is a constant incentive to steal a march on the other.