Chinese incursions more likely around polls, when Indo-Pak tensions high, says Dartmouth study | India News

NEW DELHI: Chinese incursions into the Indian border are more likely when elections are due in India, there is closer cooperation between India and the US or an increase in Indo-Pak hostilities, scientists have found after studying 15 years of data on monthly transgressions from across the border.
Another factor that leads to increased incursions is a dip in consumer confidence in the Chinese economy, according to the study published in the journal Humanities & Social Sciences Communications which noted that world leaders and India’s military should be on high alert during these periods.
“Our study is the first rigorous statistical analysis of Chinese incursions into India. It is also the most extensive, tracking 18 variables (factors that were hypothesized to trigger border incursions) over 15 years on a monthly basis,” V S Subrahmanian, one of the authors of the study and director of the Institute for Security, Technology, and Society at Dartmouth College (US), told TOI.
Earlier this month, there was an ingress by Chinese troops in Demchok in Ladakh to protest against celebrations of Tibetan religious leader Dalai Lama’s birthday in Indian villages. Last year in June 2020, Ladakh’s Galwan Valley witnessed a violent clash between the two sides — one of the worst in 45 years.
According to Subrahmanian, two major links can be found between the findings of their paper and the Galwan Valley incursion. “First, Chinese consumer confidence dropped steeply during the January-May 2020 timeframe which our study had found predictive of a Chinese incursion in subsequent months. The loss of consumer confidence within China was likely due to a combination of pressures after the onset of Covid-19 as well as strong US economic pressure on China during that time frame,” he said.
Subrahmanian and his team had found that consumer confidence in the Chinese economy was inversely linked to border incursions which is consistent with the broad literature that suggests that autocratic states, in particular, may engage in international hostility to distract from poor economic conditions at home.
India-Pakistan conflict had also heated up in May 2020 which likely played a role in triggering the Galwan transgression. “A number of attacks were carried out by Pakistan-backed militant groups in May 2020 alone — for instance, the killing of several Indian soldiers in Handwara (Kashmir) in the first week of May — increasing tensions between the two countries. Our study had found that increase in India-Pakistan hostilities is linked to Chinese incursions,” said Subrahmanian.
For the study, researchers conducted a detailed statistical analysis of 15 years of monthly data (2005–2019) to understand the conditions under which Chinese border incursions into India could occur in the next 1-6 months. The study relied on reports of Chinese incursions that were well documented by multiple independent media outlets. Incursions were defined as unauthorised Chinese military entries into territory that are internationally accepted as being either Indian or disputed territory.
Indian domestic politics influenced Chinese aggression, researchers found. Indian elections were positively associated with Chinese incursions six months in the future. “Regardless of the party in power, China appears to use the distraction of upcoming elections to strike opportunistically,” study co-author and postdoctoral research associate Kevin Greene told TOI.
Researchers highlighted that the study only focused on Chinese incursions into India and not vice-versa for two reasons. “One, while Indian foreign policy decisions play an important role in global politics, the scale of China’s territorial expansion is much larger and has broader implications. Second, our research into Indian incursions into China returns few instances that could be verified by third parties. In most cases, these incursions were reported only by Chinese state media,” it said.
A positive link was found between Chinese incursions into India and the number of months that an Indian leader has been in power. This is contrary to past theory on border conflicts in general which suggests that longer leader duration decreases the likelihood of conflict or conflict escalation. This was true in case of Chinese leadership where the number of months that a Chinese leader was in power was inversely linked to incursions into India.
One possible explanation for this, according to the researchers, could be that China does not engage in incursions during the early tenure of Indian leaders as this may lead Indian leaders to respond aggressively to demonstrate their resolve.
The results also showed that strengthening of the US-India relations increase Chinese incursions over the next six months. Existing literature suggests that as the relationship between India and the US becomes stronger, China may seek to undermine or test the strength of US-India cooperation, according to the researchers.
They also found that Chinese construction near the border was positively linked to an incursion five months later but inversely linked to an incursion two months later. This might suggest that when Chinese construction occurs along the border, the Chinese military does not carry out incursions initially (perhaps because of concerns of heightened vigilance on the Indian side) and then—five months later—carry out an incursion, the study said.
Understanding the drivers of conflict between the two nations is a priority for both researchers and policymakers since they are the two most populous countries in the world, each armed with nuclear weapons, and the death toll of a protracted conflict between the two states would be “astronomical”, the study noted.

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