Morning Brief

China and India Trade Blame For Deadly Mountain Clashes

Is this a pressure valve releasing, or the start of a more intense conflict?

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir on June 17, 2020.
Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir on June 17, 2020. Tauseef Mustafa/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: India announces 20 soldiers killed in border clash with China, North Korea threatens further escalation over leaflet dispute, and New Zealand updates quarantine measures after breach.

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China and India Point Fingers After Deadly Clash

A picturesque Himalayan border region between India and China became the site of military conflict on Monday, as tensions that had been building between the nations for the past few months finally led to deadly hand-to-hand clashes.

In such a remote area, and with both sides eager to spin the story to their own benefit, it’s difficult to know who may have, literally, thrown the first stone—both sides at least maintain no shots were fired. Death tolls, too, have been hard to come by. The Indian army initially said three of their soldiers had been killed, but this figure was later revised to 20, after adding that an additional 17 had died from their injuries. Although it’s likely China also suffered casualties, Chinese authorities have yet to release any figures.

How have both countries reacted? So far, the response has been muted from both sides. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, usually active on social media has been silent. A Canadian government readout of a call Modi had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday mentioned the issue, but there was no such mention in the Indian government’s version.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said the clash arose from “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo.” His Chinese counterpart laid the blame on India for “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides.”

Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the pro-government Chinese newspaper Global Times suggested that China’s withholding of casualty figures was a gesture of restraint on its part in order “to avoid stoking public mood” in both countries. “This is goodwill from Beijing,” he wrote on Twitter. 

What comes next? As Foreign Policy’s James Palmer and Ravi Agrawal point out in an in-depth explainer, the skirmish comes at a time when Chinese officials are under increasing pressure to be “performatively nationalist,” leading to concerns that this won’t wind down quickly. “It could mean months of skirmishes and angry exchanges along the border, likely with more accidental deaths,” Palmer and Agrawal write.

If cooler heads do not prevail, the mountainous region may prove to be a brake on any quick escalation. “The conditions in the Himalayas themselves severely limit military action; it takes up to two weeks for troops to acclimate to the altitude, logistics and provisioning are extremely limited, and air power is severely restrained,” they add.


What We’re Following Today 

North Korea escalates. A State Department spokesperson urged North Korea to “refrain from further counterproductive actions,” after North Korea blew up a building housing an inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong on Tuesday. On Wednesday, North Korea rejected an offer by South Korea to send special envoys to defuse the situation, and threatened to send more troops to areas along the border between the two countries. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the President Moon Jae-in said South Korea would no longer “tolerate any more of North Korea’s indiscreet rhetoric.”

Writing in Foreign Policy on Tuesday, Doug Bandow lamented South Korea’s “decision to grovel” regarding their swift outlawing of defector organizations that had been dropping leaflets on North Korean territory. “The Moon government sacrificed its dignity and its citizens’ freedom, no small matters. Moreover, Seoul abandoned its leverage, which Pyongyang revealed to be substantial,” Bandow writes. “The North fears propaganda directed at its citizens. Instead of shutting down such activities, the South should encourage them.”

Brazil records highest daily number of coronavirus cases. On Tuesday, Brazil recorded 34,918 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily count of the pandemic so far. “There is a crisis, we sympathize with bereaved families, but it is managed,” said Walter Braga Netto, a senior official in the president’s office, adding that Brazil’s rate of deaths per million residents was still lower than in European countries with lower numbers of cases. That claim is questionable, however, given that it is based on limited data. Brazil has tested just a fraction of its population compared to countries such as Spain, Italy, and the U.K., which have conducted approximately ten to twelve times as many tests per million residents.

Turkey and France trade barbs. Turkey has hit back at French criticism over its “aggressive” role in Libya, arguing that French support for Khalifa Haftar has “exacerbated the crisis in Libya.” On Monday, France called for talks with NATO allies over Turkey’s posture in the Libyan conflict. “What should actually be a cause for concern are France’s dark ties. It is unacceptable for a NATO ally to behave this way,” the statement from Turkey’s foreign ministry said.

Suriname president loses. Suriname’s electoral authority has now verified that President Desi Bouterse lost in the country’s national elections last month, paving the way for his exit after almost 40 years at the center of Surinamese politics. The Progressive Reform party, led by Chan Santokhi, won 20 seats in the 51-seat national assembly; the National Democratic Party of Bouterse won 16. Santokhi says he will be able to form a coalition that should elect him president once the assembly is sworn in at the end of the month. Bouterse was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court in November for ordering the execution of 15 of his political rivals. Until now, presidential immunity had kept him out of prison.


Keep an Eye On

New Zealand’s coronavirus-free status. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has instructed the country’s defense forces to manage the country’s quarantine facilities after an episode where two travelers from Britain were allowed to break compulsory quarantine to see their dying parent. Both travelers have since tested positive for the coronavirus. “I cannot allow the gains we have all made to be squandered by processes that are not followed,” Ardern said at a news conference. 

U.K. department merger raises fears of politicized aid. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the Department of International Development would be merged with the larger Foreign Office, prompting fears that the United Kingdom’s development aid could become tied to broader trade goals. “We have received extensive evidence that merging foreign affairs departments and aid departments erode international reputations, and actually are so costly and disruptive there is very little benefit,” said Sarah Champion, the chair of the British International Development Select Committee. “In the cases of Canada and Australia, the mergers have not improved the quality of aid, and we have heard that the reorganizations eroded their soft power.”


Odds and Ends

Lost luggage. Ever get that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something? In Switzerland, one traveler disembarked a little lighter when stepping off a Swiss Federal Railways train from St. Gallen to Lucerne after leaving a $191,000 package of gold bars on board. Swiss police have yet to track down the owner of the package, and have appealed to the public for help with the search. Authorities say the owner of the gold bars has five years to claim the package, currently held by the public prosecutor’s office.

Fines for flatulence. Austrian police have fined a Vienna man 500 euros (about $560) for farting loudly in front of police officers in a park. The Vienna police wrote on Twitter that “of course no one is reported for accidentally letting one go,” but insisted that the offender had been uncooperative and provocative. He allegedly arose from a bench, looked the cops in the eye, and “let go a massive intestinal wind apparently with full intent.”


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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