New prime minister of India Narendra Modi, while seen as pro-business and an economic reformer, is also an ardent Hindu nationalist. This nationalism extends to India’s often testy relations with neighbors. There are four potential flashpoints that could affect relations with China and could even lead to war under a perfect storm circumstances:
- India has been sheltering the Dalai Lama for decades and has upheld the Tibetan right to self-determination against the constant pressure to assimilate into the rest of China. The Dalai Lama is the one symbol that keeps Tibet alive, and his age is a major concern. When he passes, the Chinese will seek to elevate their choice to succeed him. This could spark intense protests in Tibet and that could conceivably draw the two states into conflict.
- The two countries account for 40% of the global population, but they have access to just 10% of the world’s water. The Tibetan plateau is one of the great fresh water reservoirs in Asia and supplies the bulk of India’s water. The Chinese have a plan to divert as much as 60% of the Brahmaputra River to feed the dwindling Yellow River, which would rob India of its largest source of fresh water.
- Two land disputes—the areas of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh—that triggered the 1962 Sino-Indian war were never settled.
- The Chinese and the Pakistani governments have been sporadic allies, and India is well aware of the military buildup to the north. Modi has been aggressive, if not hostile, towards the Pakistani leaders in the past and will have low tolerance for anything that could compromise the Indian security position.
- Chris Kuehl, Ph.D., NACM economist and co-founder of Armada Corporate Intelligence