How does one affirm claims of territorial sovereignty through a show of force while simultaneously avoiding a nuclear war? A lot of chest bumping, apparently.

A long-standing territorial dispute that has flared up into a minor confrontation between India and China is now in its third week, as both countries continue to pump troops into a border region as a means of provocation and intimidation. Because none of the soldiers are carrying weapons, the border region in question has seen bizarre skirmishes between Indian and Chinese soldiers that looks like a fight you would see at a shopping mall between groups of teenagers.

But as thousands of troops from the world’s two most populous nations stare eye-to-eye as tensions rise, the realities of a war between the nuclear-armed regional powerhouses still remain unlikely. Despite the minimal threat of an actual shooting war breaking out in this scenario, Chinese officials have said that the altercation is the “worst in 30 years.”

The region in question is a “trijunction” of borders, where China, India, and Bhutan all connect. The area is part of the Himalayas, and the terrain is brutal and unforgiving. In addition to the mountainous and difficult landscape, the borders these countries currently rely on were largely negotiated in colonial times, and where they connect is disputed. China has forced the issue of the trijunction dispute by building a road in the region, and in response Bhutan requested the help of Indian troops to maintain the status quo.

While it may seem foolish to rattle sabers over a border dispute in the mountains, India and China fought a war in 1962 over just such a dispute, resulting in thousands killed, and memories of the war remain.

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Given China’s provocations in other parts of the world, namely the South China Sea, India’s reaction and any subsequent Chinese actions could be an important test for its more recent aggressive foreign policy. Bhutan is a small nation, and China may feel more comfortable pushing the boundaries of a militarily weak neighbor. But, as Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley said “India in 2017 is different from India in 1962.” Specifically, a modern military and a nuclear arsenal are now at its disposal.

Until cooler heads prevail, we are left with chest bumping.

Featured image courtesy of Lamdafriend – Wikipedia