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The intractable Sino-Indian border dispute: A theoretical and historical account

Westcott, Stephen (2017) The intractable Sino-Indian border dispute: A theoretical and historical account. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Sino-Indian border dispute remains one of the most significant points of tension between Asia’s two rising powers, generating numerous military standoffs and diplomatic incidents since the founding of the two countries. Yet, despite the importance of the Sino-Indian border dispute in the geopolitics of both states, there have been no theoretical examination to date as to why the Sino-Indian border dispute has become and remain intractable. The lack of a proper theory regarding the intractableness of the Sino-Indian border dispute is symptomatic of a wider dearth of serious theoretical studies investigating why and how interstate border disputes become and remain intractable. This dissertation, therefore, attempts to answer a research question that has not been properly addressed in the scholarly literature on interstate border disputes: “why has the Sino-Indian border dispute become and remained intractable and thereby difficult to resolve?”

Utilising neoclassical realism as a guide, I propose and test one core hypothesis: China and India have maintained their irreconcilable positions towards the border dispute because any attempt at resolution, whether by making painful and unpopular concessions or by attempts to annex the territory by force, is against the interest of three sets of actors in both states. These three actors correspond with Kenneth Waltz’s three levels-of-analysis; that is the individual state leaders, the state’s governing institutions and the State as an actor operating in the international system. When these actors approach an interstate border dispute, there are three general policy strategies available: to escalate, to compromise or to maintain the status quo. For different reasons, actors from both China and India typically consider escalatory and compromise strategies too risky and reject them as options. Thus, maintaining the status quo becomes the default policy for both sides. Consequently, despite several rounds of border negotiations and numerous confrontations, the Sino-Indian border dispute remains intractable, a state of affairs that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School Of Business and Governance
Supervisor(s): Ganguly, Rajat and Makinda, Samuel
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