Buried in the Himalayas in the Siliguri Corridor, also known as the Chicken’s neck, Chinese and Indian military forces sit on the respective sides of their vague borders and entrench themselves for what could become a shooting war between nuclear powers.
Both Beijing and New Delhi see the conflict as a shoving match for dominance in the Himalayas, an age-old struggle between the two states that most recently went hot in 1962, before either state had perfected nuclear bombs.
But now a Chinese construction project aiming to build a road that can support 40 ton vehicle traffic threatens a critical passage in India and risks alienating New Delhi from its ally, Bhutan.
As China asserts sovereignty over the disputed border zone with the building project, Indian troops have entrenched themselves, according to a dispatch from the South China Morning Post.
“New bunkers are being built, the ground is being mined to pre-empt Chinese attack, machine-gun nests are being placed at strategic points, and soldiers are performing battle drills at least twice a day,” according to the Post.
Both India and Bhutan have protested China’s ambitious one belt one road program to undertake massive infrastructure projects across Asia, and now China seems intent on testing the two nations’ resolve.
“They are trying to show Bhutan who calls the shots in the Himalayas. So we have to ensure we are capable of defending Bhutan’s territorial integrity,” Maj. Gen. Gaganjit Singh, who commanded a division in India’s Northeast before retiring as the deputy chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency, told the Post. “We have to prove we can defend Bhutan and we are determined not to lose the current terrain and tactical advantage we have in Chumbi Valley.”
At 9,800 feet in elevation, the Indian troops sit and watch the Chinese below as they push forward with their road.
“It’s important for us to stop the Chinese here because if we fail, they will roll on to the Chicken’s Neck and can cut off our northeast,” said Singh.
Meanwhile, China, the numerically superior army, declared it would protect its border “at all costs,” and that the Indians should have “no illusions” about their resolve.
But while China sees this step as vital for asserting dominance and achieving a major construction initiative, and India sees it as a vital threat to its national integrity, neither side wants serious fighting to start.
“A hot war between India and China could squander all the gains from their extensive economic diplomacy, and that would work against each country’s interests in a big way,” Michael Kugelman, the Deputy Director of the Wilson Center’s Asia Program, told The Cipher Brief of the conflict.
Hopefully at the upcoming summit between Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, (BRICS) the two sides can work out a way to end the conflict while saving face, before we see two nuclear-armed nations with a combined population of nearly 3 billion go to war.