Chinese soldiers patrol the border with India in Ngari prefecture, China, April 2017
Reuters

On the evening of June 15, hundreds of Chinese and Indian troops clashed in the Galwan Valley, a remote part of the disputed border between the two countries. Twenty Indian soldiers and an unconfirmed number of Chinese soldiers were killed in medieval hand-to-hand combat involving stones and clubs, some wrapped with barbed wire. The fighting marked the first deaths on the long-disputed boundary in 45 years—and the deadliest clash between the two Asian giants since 1967.

Beijing and New Delhi are now attempting to de-escalate tensions, but they have sent reinforcements to the border and eye each other warily. The series of events that led to the clash seems to have begun with China’s move into a portion of the Galwan Valley, raising questions about Chinese motives. Provoking India could push New Delhi to pursue closer ties with Washington at a time when U.S.-Chinese relations are on a downward spiral. It also risks undermining China’s efforts to strengthen relations with India over the past two decades—in part to prevent the formation of a U.S.-led coalition of states that might balance Chinese power.

Some speculate that China’s more aggressive posture toward India in the past

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  • M. TAYLOR FRAVEL is Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and Director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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