China and India earlier this month experienced the worst clash between their armed forces since 1967. The two nuclear-armed neighbors share a 4,056-km border that has not been fully demarcated, triggering military confrontations virtually since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. That enduring flashpoint has assumed new significance as the two countries battle the COVID-19 outbreak and their political leaders steer two deeply nationalist publics through multidimensional crises. The current crisis could prove to be a defining moment for Asia.
The border has been a source of constant strain in the China-India relationship, one that includes nearly one-third of the world’s population and two of its most important countries. Its precise contours are uncertain; its name — the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — reflects that ambiguity.