China-India relations reach a new nadir. Last Friday, Chinese and Indian soldiers clashed at the Pangong Tso border between Ladakh and Tibet, reportedly prompting Indian troops to open fire. (Beijing has not publicly confirmed the incident.) Unusually, the standoff coincided with a visit by Michael Pompeo, Mike Pence, and their Australian counterpart, to India to discuss trade. Pompeo emphasized that border disputes between China and India will have to be worked out without at gunpoint.

This was the most violent altercation between these forces since June, when a bloody clash in the Galwan Valley left 20 Indian soldiers dead. The LAC has been disputed since at least 1959, but a series of events in July and August made it clear that India and China were headed for a showdown. (I wrote at the time that it could be the start of a hot war, an outcome both sides seemed committed to avoiding.)

The face-off has become increasingly clear. As I mentioned last week, the Indian government has responded to the incidents with steps to boycott Chinese products and bans on Chinese apps. At the same time, Indian military exercises in Ladakh have expanded. China still claims that it has the ultimate say over the territory, and Delhi is continuing to train its soldiers in the region—leading scenarios of a de facto buffer zone in the area.

China’s Response

China has not addressed the border violence or India’s moves to limit Chinese influence in the region directly. Instead, it has focused on rejecting U.S. proposals for a Western-led push to send medical supplies to India during its record-breaking Covid-19 wave. Reports from the region indicate that a Chinese-funded shipment has already been sent to India. China is also working to woo or at least normalize relations with countries in the region, including Nepal and Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, regional diplomacy varies from mild to tense. On Tuesday night, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to Thai opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s recent opinion piece in Foreign Policy, in which he argued that Beijing has been able to exploit incoherent ASEAN policy to push its own interests without much opposition. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the article but said that China was committed to building trust and cooperation with its ASEAN neighbors.

Beijing is also pushing for an improvement in ties with Seoul. At the end of a two-day visit to China on Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told the press that he and his Chinese counterparts had agreed to purchase from Korea at least $100 billion dollars worth of goods and services over the next five years, creating 400,000 jobs in South Korea. The announcement comes after months of high-level talks between the two countries, with South Korea recently sending its vice trade minister to China to negotiate.

The Week Ahead

The CCP’s Central Committee holds its fifth plenary session of the year in Beijing, starting on Thursday. This meeting was originally scheduled for October, but the coronavirus pandemic led to an unprecedented delay. The main focus of attention is likely to be the 14th five-year plan, a roadmap for China’s development in the next half decade.

Beijing also needs to plan for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, scheduled to take place in mid-November in Kuala Lumpur. Chinese President Xi Jinping expects to attend whether or not the pandemic is over. The event is shaping up to be an important moment for countries in the region, as they grapple with how to move forward after a year of disruptions.

Finally, Chinese diplomats will attend the Group of 20 meetings this weekend. U.S. President Donald Trump will join the gathering; analysts will be watching to see if Washington is still courting Chinese investments or turns up the heat on trade to offset its pandemic losses. After a surprisingly muted U.S. reaction to news that China replaced two top Rocket Force generals, it will be interesting to see if the administration decides to reassert its presence and leadership in the region.