Another explanation for Sino-Indian border flareup


Over at The Diplomat, Robert Farley has added his voice to the commentary currently flowing freely in the media about the implications of the recent border kerkuffle. The key paragraph to Farley's short article reads:

Nevertheless, it is not clear why China has determined to assertively pursue both of these disputes at the same time. Historically, states with wide-ranging security problems are best advised to resolve those problems one at a time, hopefully in isolation with one another. In this case, it’s not completely clear that the same people are making decisions on policy in both the Himalayas and the East China Sea; the Chinese foreign and military policy-making process is sufficiently complicated that local authorities have some influence over border policy.  However, it hardly makes sense for China to antagonize both of its powerful neighbors at once, even if it is in the right in both cases. (Emphasis mine)

Yesterday, I drew attention to Srinath Raghavan's explanation that this may just be a genuine mistake on the part of the Chinese military since the LAC is ambiguous at best. Applying Occam's razor, this is the simplest solution to Farley's puzzler: why would China want to address both this China-India border dispute while Beijing is already busy sorting out the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands spat?

Supporting this argument, I also brought to bear Alastair Iain Johnston's recent article rebutting the narrative of a new assertiveness in Chinese foreign policy. The recent brinkmanship regarding the island dispute is the most visible manifestation of this new assertiveness narrative, but can be explained away as caused by "exogenous shocks"; in other words, this "assertiveness" is a reaction to facts on the ground as opposed to a self-conscious policy shift at the top. Now when turning to the Sino-Indian border flareup, there are no "shocks" to precipitate the incursions.

But Farley brings up another possibility. The de-centralized and opaque process of policy-setting may be a contributor here. This is reminiscent of the insightful International Crisis Group report Stirring Up the South China Sea, which demonstrated the fundamentally non-coordinated way the maritime disputes were gathering steam as different agencies pursued their agendas. Therefore, Farley's puzzler can be answered in two ways--it's an honest mistake or local border authorities are flexing their muscles. In both cases, the fear of Beijing strategically opening a new front on its territorial disputes makes little logical sense.