Killing 20 Indian soldiers, China provokes a nationalist tiger

India is left enraged after China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) beat to death 20 Indian soldiers. The clash occurred after India said that PLA forces attempted to “change the status quo” along the two countries’ disputed Line of Actual Control.
The violence did not involve an armed engagement, instead, the PLA physically attacked a smaller number of Indian soldiers led by Colonel Santosh Babu. But if, the news reports and analysts are correct, and 20 soldiers, including a regiment commanding officer, were killed, Indian nationalist anger will be unleashed. Considering that both China and India possess nuclear weapons, this concern should not be underestimated.
Nor should we forget that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s power flows from this nationalist base. Shaping a foreign policy vision of India as a global power, Modi has skillfully redirected Indian nationalist sentiments away from their prior obsession with domestic sectarian interests and toward the idea of India as a key international player. But where Indian soldiers have been brutally beaten to death at the hands of a foreign aggressor, Modi faces a distinct challenge. He will feel especially pressured to respond forcefully given perceptions in his Bharatiya Janata Party that he acted too timidly to a February 2019 attack by Pakistani terrorists.
Adding fuel to the fire, this isn’t the first recent Chinese escalation against Indian interests.
Over the past two months, the PLA has been increasingly aggressive along the line of control, frequently confronting Indian patrols on the assumed Indian side of the border. Xi Jinping has also allowed the PLA to send aggressive officers to engage with more diplomatically minded Indian Army commanders. This is straight out of China’s now reflexively imperialist foreign policy strategy and is designed to intimidate India into compromises that favor Beijing.
Modi will now come under pressure to deploy armored, artillery, and air assets to the line of control. China has already deployed its own assets in that regard. And while neither side seeks an actual military conflict, the potential for miscalculation is far greater than some assume.
PLA forces along the border are particularly emboldened by the freedom of action they are given by Beijing.
The United States should stand with India here. The world’s most populous democratic nation is facing the same Chinese aggression that Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines experience nearly every day in the South China Sea. And it poses an existential threat to the American-led liberal international order.