US Elections Will Help Shape India–China Conflict: Experts

October 26, 2020 Updated: October 26, 2020

LEH, India—Political analysts believe there’s a connection between China’s aggression on the Indian border and the upcoming U.S. elections and that the outcome of the elections will affect China’s behavior toward India.

“China views the U.S. as consumed with its domestic elections with little bandwidth for foreign policy, and it is possible that its escalation on the Indian frontier is related to it understanding that Washington won’t be able to help India substantially in case of a conflict,” Harsh Pant, a nonresident fellow at the U.S.–India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told The Epoch Times on a chat platform from New Delhi.

India’s and China’s bilateral relations experienced a serious downfall on June 15 after a bloody conflict between the soldiers of the two nations, in which both nations suffered casualties.

Since then, the two Asian economic giants have had multiple diplomatic and military talksthe last diplomatic talk happened on Sept. 10, and the seventh round of military talks happened on Oct. 12.

Bibhu Prasad Routray, a security analyst and the director of Mantraya, a Goa-based think tank, told The Epoch Times on a chat platform that the Chinese didn’t take India–U.S. synergy into account when increasing tensions on the border.

“This was in a way Beijing’s reaction to a number of factors, including the decision on article 370 and growing Indo-U.S. strategic cooperation,” said Routray. “However, at the same time, it seemed to have underestimated the kind of support India could generate on the issue, not just from the U.S., but from other countries.”

Article 370 in the Indian constitution determined the status of India’s northernmost state, Jammu and Kashmir, which shares borders with both Pakistan and China. In 2019, the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished Article 370 and politically reorganized the state into the federally governed Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir and UT of Ladakh in India.

The new UT of Jammu and Kashmir shares a border with Pakistan, and the UT of Ladakh shares a border with China. Both Pakistan and China objected to this reorganization.

Immediately after the reorganization, the Indian administration imposed a lockdown in the state and an absolute internet shutdown for 213 days. The Trump administration accepted India’s response as its “internal matter,” but the Democrats in the House of Representatives organized two congressional hearings on the matter.

A survey conducted by the Indiaspora and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, released on Sept. 15, showed that the Indian American vote, which is majority Democratic, has shifted toward President Donald Trump, going from 16 percent voting for him in 2016 to 28 percent favoring him now.

Democrats’ criticism of the political reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir is attributed as a key factor behind Democratic candidate Joe Biden losing some of the Indian American vote to Trump, according to a paper by Kashish Parpiani and Abhimanini Sawhney of the Observer Research Foundation.

Trump and Modi
U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend “Howdy, Modi!” at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sept. 22, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Outcome of the US elections

Multiple political analysts are of the viewpoint that the results of the elections in the United States will impact China’s behavior toward India and thus will determine bilateral relations.

“Partly because everything is U.S.-centric now. What the U.S. will do [affects] how things are going to change. If Biden comes, then his approach towards India is going to be different,” Phunchok Stobdan, a former Indian diplomat and a political analyst, told The Epoch Times in an interview at the Ladakh International Center in Leh.

“I mean, his approach with China is going to be different. So I think they, the Chinese, are calculating the global picture,” said Stobdan, adding that the “border standoff will also prolong till the U.S. elections.”

Routray said the results of the U.S. elections will impact the resolution between India and China.

“India’s ability to leverage on U.S. support may suffer a setback if Trump loses,” he said. “The Democrats may not be as acutely anti-China as Trump. If Biden wins, India will have to have a rethink on its strategy.”

After the bloody conflict on June 15 between India and China, efforts have been made to strengthen the quadrilateral alliance, called the QUAD, between India, Japan, Australia, and the United States. Routray said that if Biden wins, the U.S.–India equation within the QUAD may change.

“The option of building pressure on Beijing, mostly through QUAD, may not be available to India. The U.S. under Biden may push India to solve the issue bilaterally, even while knowing fully well what has been lost in an armed conflict cannot be won back through negotiations,” he said. “That will make India’s task of regaining the lost territory doubly difficult.”

Since June 15, China has seized some territory in Ladakh, with India at some points entering Chinese territory in retaliation, according to Indian media.

Pant said China might be tempted to escalate tensions on its disputed border with India if Trump doesn’t come to power again.

“In case there is no clear mandate in the U.S. elections, or results lead to litigation, then China might be tempted to escalate further post-November,” said Pant, who is also head of Strategic Studies at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Just a week ahead of the U.S. elections, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are scheduled to visit India, from Oct. 25 to 30, for the 2+2 ministerial dialogue to “advance the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership and expand cooperation to promote stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world,” according to a release by the U.S. State Department.

“China is underestimating the resolve in New Delhi and Washington, but they may be counting on a Biden administration potentially being a little soft on them,” Pant said.

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