Not long after the deadly border clash in June between China and India, observers were trying to ascertain the geopolitical consequences of the incident. Many focussed on how the clash would drive India closer to the United States, a popular view in the West. In India itself too, there is growing desire to abandon ‘appeasement’, get tough on China and strategically strengthen ties with the United States.

Stronger US–India relations, especially in the commercial space, would stimulate economic growth in India. But reflexively strengthening military and diplomatic ties with the United States because of the border dispute — creating the impression that India has chosen sides in the US–China rivalry — will do little to ease pressure at the border and related tensions. It is more likely to convince China to take an even harsher stance against India. China could use the border dispute not only to provoke India, but to send a signal about diminishing US power in the region.

While the Sino-Indian rivalry is complex, the border dispute is for the moment the clearest manifestation of bilateral tension. This issue isn’t one that can be solved by the United States — it is the product of different levels of border infrastructure development between India and China, combined with the general state of the two countries’ militaries. An improved US–India partnership will not solve this problem, even if it were upgraded to a military alliance buttressed by a defence treaty.

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This article has been published by Andrei Lungu, President of RISAP, in the East Asia Forum. You can read the full article on the East Asia Forum website.