Beijing Backs Down, India Retreats: The Ethnicity of National Sovereignty in SW Asia

The myopia of western academic parlance is shaped from unhistorical ideals of Westphalia; the idea of the nation state and its historical foundation in ethnic identity as a distinct boundary has limited appeal in the west after the end of the cold war, it has virtually no basis of national sovereignty in southwest Asia.  Although the Protestant Reformation destroyed the ‘Catholic‘ unity European identity, it ushered in both brutality and stability evidenced in the extraordinary level of sustenance that underwrites the achievement that has become western civilization. These ideals have no currency in southwest Asia, the new terra incognita that is nuclear, ethnically diverse and demographically large.  We shouldn’t expect geopolitical resolution here, where history is heavy and violence a norm between competing versions of sovereignty.

The border dispute that erupted into armed conflict between India and China in 1962 has reared its ugly head again, this time with Beijing openly confronting India on its eastern border near Bangladesh.  Although the tiny nation state of Bhutan (another former British protectorate) is administered in New Delhi, it was Islamabad’s proxy in Beijing that sought to overtly challenge Indian sovereignty by entering a small plateau bordering India and China usurping previous agreements.

Why is this ugly?

The danger resides in the competing, unreconciled claims that underwrite regional sovereignty.  Bhutan is only nominally aligned to India, even though it receives generous financial aid from India, its culture is Buddhist and more closely resembles east Asia.  The flat plateau that serves the material cause of this conflict is called Doklam, however the proximate cause is diffused, related to Chinese bellicosity regarding smaller regional nation states.  As of this writing Beijing has receded and has tempered its aggressive stance.  This tells us much about Beijing, its reach and resources.

The 21km wide corridor connecting India to Bhutan is a nerve center colloquially called ‘the chicken’s neck’, serving connectivity between India & Bhutan.  China sought to openly threaten this causeway only to retreat.  Although war planners in China often govern their ideas through determinist concepts of geography, it was realism that tempered Beijing’s claims as it retreated from Doklam.

China’s attention is now dominated by North Korea, satellite pictures reveal that Beijing is fortifying its northern border with Pyongyang and doesn’t need to possibility of war on multiple fronts.  This should teach China-hands throughout academia and State that nationalism is tempered to the demands of realism.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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